Singapore retail sales fall 52.1% in record drop in May during COVID-19 circuit breaker

FILE PHOTO: A woman wearing a protective face mask passes grocery shoppers amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Singapore May 15, 2020.

SINGAPORE: Singapore’s total retail sales fell a record 52.1 per cent on a year-on-year basis in May, while the country was still under a COVID-19 “circuit breaker”, according to data released by the Department of Statistics (SingStat) on Friday (Jul 3).

The drop was the steepest since records began in 1986, beating April’s previous record.

The lower sales were “due mainly” to the circuit breaker measures that were in place for the month of May, SingStat said.

Excluding motor vehicles, retail sales fell 45.2 per cent, lower than the 32.5 per cent in April.

Compared to the previous month, seasonally adjusted retail sales declined 21.5 per cent in May. Excluding motor vehicles, seasonally adjusted retail sales decreased 20.1 per cent.

Analysts previously said retail sales could begin recovering only after Singapore entered Phase 2 of the reopening, but the slump could eventually cause full-year sales to contract more than three times that in 2019. Phase 2 began on Jun 19 in Singapore.

“With the re-opening of stores during the Phase 2, we can expect some improvement from June onwards with a potential initial snapback in pent-up demand,” said Ms Selena Ling, head of treasury research and strategy at OCBC Bank.

“But the test of the pudding is whether the momentum can sustain into the (second half of 2020),” she said.

Domestic labour market conditions are likely to remain soft, she said, adding that a second wave of COVID-19 infections globally and the hesitation to resume international travel may mean that demand conditions remain muted in the coming months.

With these “significant uncertainties”, Ms Ling cautioned that even an initial June “retail bounce” may not be sufficient to compensate for the shortfall seen in the two months of “cold storage” during the circuit breaker period.


The estimated total retail sales value in May was about S$1.8 billion – 24.5 per cent of that came from online retail sales.

“The silver lining continued to be online sales which accounted for 24.5 per cent of total retail sales, driven still mainly by supermarkets, computer and telecommunications equipment, and furniture and household equipment,” Ms Ling said.

Online retail sales of computer and telecommunications equipment, furniture and household equipment, and supermarkets and hypermarkets industries made up 94.3 per cent, 93.6 per cent and 9.6 per cent of the total sales of their respective industries, SingStat said.

Overall, all retail industries saw a year-on-year decline, with the exception of supermarkets and hypermarkets, and mini-marts and convenience stores that remained open and saw a higher demand for groceries. These stores recorded increases in sales of 56.1 per cent and 9.1 per cent respectively.

As physical stores were closed for the entire month, sales of watches and jewellery, department stores, and wearing apparel and footwear industries fell between 89.1 per cent and 96.9 per cent in May.

These changes were expected, Ms Ling said.

“As expected, supermarket/hypermarket sales as well as minimarts outperformed as more people stayed and worked from home, whereas the worst hit segments were the discretionary spending items including watches and jewellery, department stores, apparel and footwear, motor vehicle sales and recreational goods as retail shops and car showrooms were all closed,” she added.

On a month-on-month basis, seasonally adjusted data showed retailers of watches and jewellery, and department stores experienced declines in sales of 73.2 per cent and 65.4 per cent respectively compared to April 2020.

Similarly, sales of optical goods and books, furniture and household equipment and motor vehicles industries fell between 41.6 per cent and 47.3 per cent, compared to same period last month.


There was a “slight improvement” for food and beverage services, SingStat said.

Compared to the same period last year, sales of food and beverage services fell 50.1 per cent in May 2020, a slight improvement from the 52.7 per cent decline in April due mainly to the circuit breaker measures, with all food & beverage establishments only allowed to operate on a takeaway or delivery basis.

“An improvement in F&B sales may be expected as early as June with dining-in allowed in Phase 2,” Ms Ling said.

“However, there has been some reconsideration of dining-in options with the second wave cases in other parts of the world may still lend a bit of caution for the F&B sector going forward,” she said, noting that a “significant portion” of the Singapore’s workforce was still working from home.

On a seasonally adjusted basis, sales of food and beverage services increased 4.1 per cent in May over the previous month.

The total sales value of food and beverage services in May was estimated at S$430 million. Of these, online food and beverage sales made up an estimated 44.6 per cent.

Within this sector, all industries recorded year-on-year declines, SingStat said.

Turnover of restaurants and food caterers declined 68.7 per cent and 45.1 per cent respectively in May 2020 compared to May 2019. Similarly, cafes, food courts and other eating places, and fast food outlets recorded lower sales of 41.4 per cent and 20.5 per cent respectively during this period.

On the other hand, food caterers benefitted from the increased demand for catered meals from foreign worker dormitories. On a seasonally adjusted basis, their turnover went up 36.2 per cent in May, compared to April.

Cafes, food courts and other eating places, and restaurants registered marginal increases in sales of 1.2 per cent and 0.1 per cent respectively.


OCBC’s forecast for June retail sales is a “much milder contraction” of 10.5 per cent year-on-year.

“The trend should continue to improve with a possibility that retail sales may edge back into positive growth territory by 4Q20,” Ms Ling added.

“That said, retail sales are still likely to contract by 9.5 per cent year-on-year for the whole of 2020, signifying a COVID-19 induced recession for Singapore.”

Z24 News

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