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Singapore retail sales inch up by 0.1% in October as growth tapers off

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Retail receipts in Singapore inched up in October on the previous year, in a sharp slowdown from the previous month’s growth, according to data from the Department of Statistics on Wednesday.

RETAIL receipts in Singapore inched up in October on the previous year, in a sharp slowdown from the previous month’s growth, according to data from the Department of Statistics on Wednesday.

The retail sales index was up by 0.1 per cent, or 0.5 per cent with motor vehicles excluded, against the 1.9 per cent year-on-year increase notched in September.

But, on a month-on-month, seasonally adjusted basis, sales dipped by 0.4 per cent overall, the same as in the month before, and slid by a steeper 2.1 per cent when vehicles were left out of the picture.

About 5.3 per cent of the month’s S$3.7 billion in turnover came from online sales.

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Growth was supported by sales of medical goods and toiletries, which were up by 3.4 per cent on higher sales of cosmetics and toiletries - inching up from gains of 3.3 per cent in September.

The contractions in computer and telecommunications equipment, optical goods and books, and mini-mart and convenience store sales were also gentler than what was seen previously.

Some segments, while still expanding, saw numbers slip on the month before. They included takeaway food vendors, where year-on-year growth eased from 2.4 per cent in September to 2 per cent in October; furniture and household equipment, where growth fell from 2.2 per cent to 1.5 per cent; and watches and jewellery, tapering from 6.2 per cent to 0.8 per cent.

But the receipts from sales of department store merchandise, apparel and footwear, and recreational goods have started to shrink, compared with September’s figures.

Petrol station sales surged by 11.4 per cent in October as pump prices stayed high, but when the price effect was removed, the increase in volume terms came in at 1.5 per cent.

Meanwhile, the food and beverage service sector saw sales up by 1.1 per cent year on year in October, as it pulled in S$710 million in receipts.

Restaurants were the weakest link, with a 3 per cent year-on-year decline at the cash register, while caterers, fast food outlets and other eateries such as cafes all saw gains.

But the sector still shrank by 0.7 per cent on a seasonally adjusted, monthly basis.

CIMB economist Song Seng Wun told The Business Times over the phone that consumers could have curtailed discretionary spending on segments such as watches, jewellery and dining, as equities markets saw a sharp correction in recent months.

“I tend to look at restaurants as the feel-good sector,” said the reputed gourmand, “and on that front we had year-on-year growth in the previous two months; but after those positive numbers, it pulled back again in October.”

Still, he anticipates an improved showing for retailers in the last stretch of 2018, with a lift likely to come from year-end shopping events such as Alibaba’s Singles’ Day in November, as well as more stability in emerging markets and global bourses.