RETAIL sales in April plunged the most in a decade as the economic crisis crunched consumer spending on items such as motor vehicles and computers.
There were some bright spots in the new numbers - jewellery, watches and other small-ticket items held up - but the overall picture was one of gathering gloom in the retail sector as unemployment rose and confidence sank.
The retail sales index slumped 11.7 per cent from a year ago, its worst showing since a 12.7 per cent fall in January 1999.
On a month-on-month basis, seasonally adjusted retail sales dropped by 3.1 per cent in April compared with the figure in March, mainly due to lower sales of big-ticket items like cars.
Motor vehicle sales - which comprise just over a third of the overall index - fell 10.2 per cent from sales in March, according to the Department of Statistics yesterday. Sales of telecommunication apparatus and computers in April also dropped by 12.1 per cent from sales in March.
If car sales were excluded, the index rose by 1.1 per cent in April over the figure in March.
The data also showed that in seasonally adjusted terms and after stripping out the effects of inflation, watch and jewellery sales rose 18.3 per cent in April over sales in March. Furniture and household equipment, food and beverages, optical goods and books, and medical goods and toiletries also recorded higher receipts in April.
'The hard data out of Singapore is painting a rather different picture from most other Asian countries,' said HSBC economist Robert Prior-Wandesforde, who cited the likes of China, South Korea and Indonesia as countries that are seeing healthier retail sales numbers. 'While the last two or three months have seen better industrial production and export figures, the same cannot be said of retail sales.'
Larger economies have not been spared the harsher retail environment.
Japan's retail sales dropped 2.9 per cent in April, falling for the eighth straight month as consumers held back due to concerns about jobs and wages.