Hong Kong Retail Sales Plummet to Record Levels as Tourism Reaches Standstill

Hong Kong retail sales fell sharply in February amid ongoing social unrest coupled with the coronavirus crisis.

According to government data, overall retail sales fell a record 44% year over year to HK$22.7 billion ($2.93 billion) in February 2020. By volume, retail sales fell a record 46.7%.

“The business environment of retail trade will remain extremely austere in the near term, as the COVID-19 pandemic has brought inbound tourism to a standstill and severely dented local consumption demand,” a government official stated in a press release.

Sales of footwear and other accessories declined 43.1% in February 2020 versus February 2019, with apparel sales falling 49.9%. Meanwhile, sales of jewelry and other valuables plummeted by a whopping 58.6%. Bright spots in the retail picture were groceries, which saw sales increase 11.1% in February year over year, and fuel revenues, which rose 6.5%.

This marked the 13th straight month of retail sales declines in Hong Kong. The semiautonomous region has faced financial woes since the second half of 2019, when pro-democracy protests resulted in tourism declines and dampened domestic retail. Those effects have been exacerbated by the novel coronavirus, which originated in the nearby Chinese province of Hubei in late 2019.

Historically, Chinese mainland tourists have been a reliable source of revenues for high-end brands in Hong Kong; the region is estimated to account for 5% to 10% of global luxury sales. But the latest figures from the Hong Kong Tourism Board show that visitor arrivals for February plummeted by 96% year over year, falling to just 199,000 for that month. Arrivals from mainland China dropped by 98%, to less than 100,000 individuals.

According to Johns Hopkins data for Wednesday, there are over 877,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus worldwide, and more than 43,000 deaths. In Hong Kong, there have been 765 known cases of the virus, with at least four dead.

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