May 5, 2020 / 8:52 AM / 23 days ago

Hong Kong March retail sales plunge 42% year-on-year due to coronavirus

HONG KONG (Reuters) - Hong Kong’s retail sales fell by 42% in March from a year earlier, as travel restrictions kept tourists away and most residents steered clear of shops and restaurants for fear of catching the coronavirus.

The spending drought has hit an economy already in recession after often-violent anti-government protests in the second half of last year.

Sales dropped to HK$23.0 billion ($2.97 billion), government data showed on Tuesday, the 14th consecutive month of decline. February’s fall was 44%.

In volume terms, retail sales in March fell 43.8%, compared with a 46.7% drop in February.

“The business environment for retail trade will remain very difficult in the near term amid the deep economic recession and sharp deterioration in the labour market,” a government spokesman said in the statement accompanying the figures.

For the first quarter of 2020, the value of total retail sales decreased by 35.0% compared with the same period in 2019, while the volume of retail sales fell by 36.9% year-on-year, the largest decline for a single quarter on record.

The Hong Kong Retail Management Association (HKRMA) said last month that about 25% of retail stores in the Asian financial hub were expected to close by end of the year despite fresh government relief measures against the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.

While Hong Kongers kept away from other shops, the value of sales of commodities in supermarkets increased by 16.1% in March compared with the same period a year earlier, the data showed.

In mid-April, Hong Kong announced relief measures worth HK$137.5 billion ($17.7 billion) to help businesses and people stay afloat.

Tourism grinding to a halt also affected retail.

Hong Kong's tourist arrivals plunged by 98.6% year-on-year in March to 82,285 visitors, compared with a 96.4% drop in February, the Hong Kong Tourism Board said. (bit.ly/3f6iv1u)

The number of mainland visitors fell 99.3% year-on-year to 30,370.

During the month, the government banned all tourist arrivals as part of its efforts to stem the spread of the coronavirus.

Sales of jewellery, watches, clocks and valuable gifts, which rely heavily on mainland tourists, plunged 75.2% on-year in March, compared with a 78.5% drop in February.

Medicines and cosmetics fell 63.8%, while department store sales dropped 42.7%.

Reporting by Donny Kwok and Twinnie Siu; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore

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