Hong Kong’s retail sales plunged 9.8 percent year on year in April, falling at more than twice the forecast 4.4 percent rate, Ming Pao Daily reported Wednesday.
Excluding cyclical factors such as the Lunar New Year break, it was the biggest monthly fall in retail sales since 2003 when Hong Kong was hit by SARS and the solo visitor scheme was first introduced.
Gold and jewelry sales fell by as much as 40 percent from a year earlier. Excluding gold and jewelry, overall retail sales during the month edged up by around 3 percent year on year. Some analysts said Hong Kong has relied too much on one group of consumers.
Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah said the government has not determined if the decrease was directly linked with the solo visitor scheme, but the drop in gold and jewelry sales pointed to a change in shopping behavior among these travelers.
Hong Kong Retail Management Association chairwoman Caroline Mak Sui-king described the new figures as shocking, particularly as the number of mainland tourists rose in April. The fall in retail sales value showed that retailers slashed prices across the board, Mak said.
The association had forecast retail sales to grow by about 7 percent this year but Mak warned that that figure could be revised down if retail sales continue to worsen in May.
According to the Hong Kong Tourism Board, 3.568 million mainland visitors came to Hong Kong in April, up 14.7 percent year on year but the growth was less than 17.5 percent increase recorded for same month last year. The total number of mainland visitors during the first four months is nearly 15 million, up by 18.7 percent year on year.
On a separate report, the Hong Kong Economic Times cited official mainland sources as saying that the drop in retail sales in Hong Kong could be due to ongoing anti-corruption campaigns up north.
Commenting on whether the Hong Kong government will slash solo visitor scheme quotas by 20 percent, those sources added that the central government will commission a special research team to review the implementation of the multiple visa scheme. No decisions will be made before the review is completed.
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