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Singapore retail sales fall 2.6% in July as car sales slump

Motor vehicle sales tumbled by 15.2 per cent year on year.

RETAIL sales in Singapore fell in July, weighed down by motor vehicles, according to the latest figures from the Department of Statistics on Wednesday.

Overall takings were down by 2.6 per cent on the previous year, against the revised 2.2 per cent growth seen in June, on fewer vehicles being sold. The drop is the first since March, and ends three months of retail sales growth.

Motor vehicle sales tumbled by 15.2 per cent year on year. But, leaving auto sales out of the picture, turnover inched up by 0.2 per cent in July, down a tad from the 0.3 per cent growth in the month before.

Selena Ling, head of treasury research and strategy at OCBC Bank, said in a note that the retail sales decline was "below our expectations", adding: "This is the weakest on-year reading since January 2018, when retail sales fell 7.7 per cent year on year, and also the lowest July reading since 2013."

Food retailers, which sell food and drink generally not meant for immediate consumption, posted a 5.4 per cent drop in sales, while sales at supermarkets and hypermarkets fell by 3 per cent and department store turnover declined by 4.6 per cent.

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Sales of computer and telecommunications equipment fell by 6 per cent, owing in part to fewer computer sales, and sales of optical goods and books dropped by 6 per cent too.

Petrol stations saw the biggest year-on-year surge in revenue, to the tune of 10.1 per cent, on the back of higher pump prices. But after the price effect was removed, the increase was just 0.5 per cent.

Other retail segments with higher sales in July included furniture and household equipment, with turnover up by 2.8 per cent, and medical goods and toiletries, which improved by 2.6 per cent.

Watches and jewellery, as well as apparel and footwear, both notched sales gains of 2.1 per cent.

Month on month and seasonally adjusted, July retail sales slid 2.9 per cent from June, but rose by 1.1 per cent when motor vehicles were excluded.

There is "no sign of light at the end of the retail sales tunnel for now" despite record visitor arrivals in July, said Ms Ling. "The July retail sales data suggests that the Great Singapore Sale, which lasts from June to August, is having a more muted effect on drumming up sales."

She added that market concerns about trade tensions between the United States and China could have dampened domestic consumer sentiment, while the slump in regional stock markets - "notwithstanding the still resilient domestic labour market conditions" - may have hit consumers' willingness to buy big-ticket items as well.

Separately, food and beverage services reversed earlier gains with takings that came in lower by 0.3 per cent year on year in July, against the revised 3.3 per cent increase in June - a slip of 0.7 per cent on a seasonally adjusted, month-on-month basis.

Fast food outlets, which saw sales up by 3.1 per cent, were the only segment not to post a decline, as restaurants lost 0.8 per cent, caterers shed 0.6 per cent and other eateries, such as cafes, had sales down by 1.1 per cent.

The estimated retail sales value for July was S$3.7 billion, of which online sales made up 4.4 per cent. Ms Ling said online sales "is very likely to increase in the medium term, given the high local mobile penetration and propensity for online shopping".

Meanwhile, food and beverage services recorded estimated takings of S$703 million, down from S$705 million in the previous year.

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