HONG KONG - Hong Kong's retail sales fell 13.6% in January as coronavirus restrictions curbed various economic activities in the Asian financial hub, with hopes for a recovery largely pinned on the rollout of vaccines. That was the biggest drop since July 2020, when sales fell 23.1% year-on-year, and compared with a revised 13.3% decline in December. January's sales plummeted from a year earlier to HK$32.6 billion ($4.20 billion), government data showed on Wednesday, falling for the 24th consecutive month. In volume terms, retail sales slumped 14.5%, compared with a 14.0% fall in the previous month. "The business environment of the retail trade will still be difficult in the near term as the epidemic continues to pose a threat and inbound tourism remains frozen," a government spokesman said, adding it was "pivotal to contain the epidemic." "If the COVID-19 Vaccination Programme yields the intended results, it should help lay a firm foundation for the revival of the retail sector and a broader based recovery of the economy later in the year," the spokesman added. Hong Kong's economy is expected to recover later this year from its longest recession on record, Finance Secretary Paul Chan said last week, forecasting growth of 3.5% to 5.5% in 2021 after a 6.1% contraction in 2020. To support a recovery in consumer and business activity, government spending in the coming year includes HK$5,000 vouchers to residents, cuts in the profits and salaries tax, and a waiver on business registration fees. The tourism and technology sectors will also receive some support. Tourist arrivals plunged 99.9% in January from a year earlier, the tourism board said last week. Sales of jewellery, watches, clocks and valuable gifts, which depend heavily on mainland tourists, fell 31.7% in January versus a revised 41.0% plunge in December, the data showed. Meanwhile consumer durable goods rose 21.8%, compared with a revised 17.1% growth in December. ($1 = 7.7564 Hong Kong dollars) REUTERS
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