Cars, tech items lift December retail sales in Singapore

SINGAPORE (The Straits Times/ANN) - But performance is uneven with consumers holding back on some discretionary spending, say analysts.

Surging car sales and a brisk trade in mobile devices helped the retail sector end last year on a robust note.

But the performance remains patchy despite stronger economic growth as consumers are still holding back on some discretionary expenditures, economists say.

Total retail takings grew 4.6 per cent in December compared with the same month a year earlier, according to Singapore Department of Statistics data yesterday (Feb 12).

This followed from November's 5 per cent expansion - the fastest in almost two years.

Retail sales went up by a modest 1.8 per cent for all of last year despite a broader pick-up across the rest of the economy.

Motor vehicle sales soared 26 per cent year-on-year in December, while computer and telecommunications equipment turnover went up 15.2 per cent.

Excluding motor vehicles, retail sales inched up just 0.6 per cent year-on-year.

Other segments fared less well. Sales of watches and jewellery declined 8.2 per cent in December from a year earlier, while takings at minimarts and convenience stores slid 2.7 per cent.

The data also showed that takings in food and beverage services rose 3.1 per cent year-on-year in December, with sales picking up at restaurants, fast-food outlets and other eating places such as cafes.

CIMB Private Bank economist Song Seng Wun said the data showed a "a mixed picture for discretionary spending".

For instance, the year-on-year slide in takings for watches and jewellery retailers weighed heavily on overall retail sales growth.

"People probably chose to spend on electronics like iPhones instead of watches and jewellery," added Mr Song.

Meanwhile, the surge in car sales likely came amid prospects of a smaller certificate of entitlement quota. The Government announced last October that it would freeze Singapore's vehicle population.

Mr Song expects some distortion to retail sales numbers over January and February on account of Chinese New Year.

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