AN EARLIER-THAN-USUAL Chinese New Year in January did not help boost retail sales here much, compared with the Christmas season a month earlier.
In fact, since many shops were closed for the Dragon Year festivities, unlike at Christmas time, shoppers bought festive goodies earlier, even in last December.
Retail sales here in January rose a subdued 1.7 per cent from last December, but still beat market expectations.
In a mathematical quirk, the retail sales index, which tracks retail spending, also rose 1.7 per cent when it was compared with that in January last year.
The figures were released by the Department of Statistics yesterday. Analysts had expected a month-on-month 1.5 per cent dip, Bloomberg data shows.
January's increase from last December was largely driven by motor vehicle sales, which leapt 9.9 per cent month-on- month. Excluding car sales, the index would have shrunk 0.5 per cent.
But Citi economist Kit Wei Zheng said this 'appears to be a relatively decent figure, considering the distortion from Chinese New Year falling in January this year, which resulted in retail outlets closing during the festivities and consumers frontloading their shopping in December'.
Consumers here also snapped up more watches and jewellery and recreational goods, which analysts said was likely due to a surge in visitor arrivals.
Watch and jewellery sales grew 6.3 per cent, and recreational goods sales expanded 4.9 per cent month-on-month.
Barclays Capital economist Leong Wai Ho pointed to the 13.4 per cent year-on-year spike in the number of inbound tourists in January as being 'the fastest growth in five months'.
But in general, 'sales performance across products was mixed, as consumer sentiment domestically was still fairly weak in January', Mr Leong said.
He also noted 'a pullback in the purchases of ICT (information and communications technology) products after the year-end sales'. Telecommunications apparatus and computer sales fell 9.5 per cent.
Mr Kit noted that the stronger-than-expected retail sales, alongside improvements in industrial production and trade figures, indicated that first-quarter gross domestic product (GDP) 'seems on track to reverse' the 2.5 per cent quarter-on-quarter GDP decline in the fourth quarter of last year.
Mr Leong agreed that the risk of recession - two sequential quarters of GDP contraction - was 'remote'.
'Momentum in retail sales has improved, and we expect stronger sales in coming months as consumer confidence locally and overseas recovers.'