Singapore retail’s historic plunge shows extent of lockdown damage

A man browsing traditional medicinal products inside a Chinese medical hall in Singapore. (AP pic)

SINGAPORE: Singapore’s retail sales plunged in May by the most since records began in 1986, signalling the economic hit from lockdown restrictions could be worse than earlier anticipated.

Overall sales plummeted by 52.1% in May from a year earlier, Singapore’s Department of Statistics said in a report Friday, worse than the 47% median in a Bloomberg survey of economists. Purchases fell 21.5% from the previous month, versus forecasts for an 8% decline.

The report noted that the sharp declines in May were due to the partial lockdown restrictions, known in the city state as “circuit breaker measures.”

Singapore started lifting restrictions on businesses at the start of June, with a “phase two” re-opening as of June 19 that has allowed consumers to trickle back to restaurants and shopping malls.

The contractions were fairly broad-based across categories, with sales at department stores plunging 93.4% in May from a year ago, while watches and jewellery purchases dropped 96.9%.

Just two categories showed increases: supermarket sales surged 56.1% and convenience stores climbed 9.1%.

The figures add to a grim outlook in 2020, with the government estimating a contraction in the economy of as much as 7%, which would be the worst since independence in 1965.

Officials have warned that the second half of the year could bring more retrenchments and business closures, even as four stimulus budgets are set to pump about S$93 billion into the economy.