People chat next to a currency exchange shop in Causeway Bay, Hong Kong.

HONG KONG – February retail sales in Hong Kong fell 5.7 percent year-over-year, an expected deepening decline versus prior months due to a shifting Chinese New Year holiday date, government data showed.

Total retail sales last month reached 34.8 billion Hong Kong dollars, or $4.5 billion at current exchange.

That’s compared to the first two months of this year, which recorded a combined 3.2 percent drop in value against the same period in 2016. January and February are usually presented together because the dates of Chinese New Year, one of the most important holidays on the Asian calendar, shifts between them.

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Thomson Cheng, chairman of the Hong Kong Retail Management Association, said “3.2 percent is quite good in my personal opinion. It’s stabilizing.”

For January and February combined, sales of apparel fell 6.9 percent; footwear and accessories were down 6.5 percent; jewelry, watches and timepieces decreased  1.2 percent, and medicines and cosmetics grew 2.7 percent.

March and April appeared to be looking up as increasing tensions between China and South Korea could see a return of some Mainland Chinese tourists to Hong Kong during the long Ching Ming holiday weekend next month.

“It’s only three days, so they can only really go to nearby places,” Cheng said, explaining that the Chinese government temporarily isn’t encouraging tourists to visit Korea, so some will go to Hong Kong instead.

But it is still his expectation that there will be a softening of Hong Kong retail sales through the first half of this year, when Cheng forecasts a 3 percent to 4 percent decline. In the second half of 2017, the executive foresees revenues remaining flat and then slightly rising in 2018.

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