By Tianwei Zhang
with contributions from Tiffany Ap
 on February 12, 2019
A Chinese New Year display in Beijing.

BEIJING — Traditionally, the Year of the Pig, which China just feted, is meant to usher in great wealth and fortune. But judging from the initial data from the weeklong holiday spending period, the country may be in for a different kind of year.

Figures from China’s Ministry of Commerce showed retail and food sales growth of 8.5 percent, the slowest pace since the government began publishing data in 2011, and falling from the 10.2 percent seen last year.

Between Feb. 4 and 10, consumption value reached 1.005 trillion renminbi — the first time it passed the trillion renminbi mark — or $148.96 billion at current exchange.

The slowdown was also evident in travel. A total of 415 million trips were made across the country during the holiday, rising by 7.6 percent year-on-year. The pace was the slowest seen since 2008 when the global financial crisis hit.

Domestic consumption is key to Beijing’s plan to keep the economy healthy. Consumer sales contributed 76.2 percent of GDP growth in 2018, which expanded by 6.6 percent, the slowest pace since 1990. A consensus forecast expects it to decelerate to between 6 and 6.5 percent this year.

Meanwhile, 6.31 million people traveled abroad, with Thailand, Japan, Vietnam, South Korea and Singapore ranking as the top five destinations.

Business giants Alibaba and Tencent also had some festive period data to share. According to Alibaba’s holiday report, the post-Eighties and post-Nineties generation made up 60 percent of the total online spending on Taobao during Chinese New Year. On Tmall, its B2C platform, the top-selling fashion item was a sports bag, while the traditional qipao and mandarin-collar jacket made up 40 percent of total apparel sales. Sales and foot traffic of Alibaba’s Intime department store were up 35 percent and 19 percent, respectively, while its online sales grew 326 percent.

WeChat revealed that 8.23 billion renminbi, or $1.2 billion, worth of red packets were sent using the app, rising 7.12 percent from a year ago. The cities of Beijing, Guangzhou, Chongqing and Chengdu sent and received the most red packets. It also highlighted the migratory effect, sharing that lower-tier cities contributed more than 40 percent of transactions as people brought their big city spending habits back to their hometown.

Thanks to the spread of WeChat Pay overseas, France was the first European country to break into the top 10 overseas spending destinations as Chinese travelers spend more and further afield. Outside mainland China, the top WeChat Pay destinations were Hong Kong, Macau and Bangkok.

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