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Holiday Season Sales Indicate Cautious Outlook for 2012
US Records Slower but Satisfactory Sales Growth over Christmas

29 December 2011 – Global sales results over the Christmas holiday season were weaker than they were last year, with emerging markets generally outperforming traditional markets. According to findings from the global network of the Hong Kong Trade Development Council (HKTDC), better sales results were recorded only in the United States and Germany. Sales were disappointing in Japan, the United Kingdom, France and, in particular, Italy.

Christmas sales in Hong Kong's major overseas markets are generally regarded as a major indicator of Hong Kong’s export prospects for the year ahead.

Speaking today at a press conference, HKTDC Assistant Chief Economist Daniel Poon said that a cautious mood prevailed among traditional markets, especially the European Union countries most affected by the sovereign debt crisis. He noted that many EU consumers were inclined to consider this holiday season as their last occasion to shop before austerity measures take effect.

To compensate for the sluggish business in traditional markets, Mr Poon advised Hong Kong exporters to hunt for new opportunities in such emerging markets as Poland, Russia, Brazil and Chile. Of more importance is the Chinese mainland, where the government is promoting domestic consumption and urban development.

Country and Regional Observations:

United States

  • Thanks to aggressive promotions and good weather conditions, US retailer sales grew by about 3.5 per cent this holiday season over last year’s, which had risen 5.2 per cent.
  • Consumer sentiment, however, remained cautious, given continuing concerns about job security, heavy debt loads and dwindling home values.
  • Most Christmas shoppers took the time to organise their shopping in advance to keep spending within their budget.
  • Retailers started offering seasonal discounts from early November. They also made use of social networks to push promotions and cultivate shopper communities.
  • E-tailers, including brick-and-mortar retailers with websites and mobile apps, performed particularly well during the festive season.
  • Mass merchandisers and discounters again did buoyant year-end business at the expense of mid-market retailers; high-end stores also showed gains amid robust sales of luxury items.
  • Smartphones and tablets topped the shopping list. Other hot sellers included flat-panel TVs and digital cameras.
  • Non-digital games based on Internet and smartphone characters such as Angry Birds led a “reverse-tech” trend. Classic toys such as Barbie, Elmo and Lego also sold well.

Western Europe

  • While the continuing sovereign debt crisis, coupled with rising unemployment, cast a shadow over the region, Christmas sales results varied considerably from country to country. Most consumers were conservative, sticking to their budgets and hunting for practical products.
  • Germany’s retail climate was reasonably positive, thanks to an improving labour market and growing incomes. Given the euro jitters, however, overall sales are estimated to have risen by only 1.5 per cent over last year, when a three per cent increase was recorded.
  • Electronic gadgets, notably smartphones, tablet computers and flat-panel TVs, were favoured presents, while new technology gadgets also sold well. As for jewellery and timepieces, both higher-end and lower-priced items were well received.
  • In France, Christmas sales were stagnant despite extensive discounts and promotions. It was even worse in Italy, which has been badly affected by the debt crisis. A series of belt-tightening fiscal measures clearly dampened the year-end atmosphere, with a double-digit decline in Christmas sales over 2010 results.
  • In the United Kingdom, sales were expected to remain flat or, at best, edge up one per cent. Consumer electronics sales stood out, while jewellery and high-end watches were weak.

Japan

  • Despite an economic rebound in the months following the country’s devastating March earthquake and tsunami, year-end sales were estimated to have fallen mildly.
  • Holiday shoppers generally opted for basic year-end gifts, once again favouring discount stores over department stores. Most products, including consumer electronics, timepieces and jewellery, did not fare well.

Chinese Mainland

  • Despite the tight monetary policy and continuing adjustments in the property market, consumption remained positive. Retail sales during the first eleven months of 2011 were up 17 per cent, year-on-year. Retail sales soared 17.3 per cent in November alone.
  • Christmas has begun to catch on in urban areas and, increasingly, in rural cities, with more and more mainland retailers featuring Yuletide decorations and related promotions.
  • Feedback from the HKTDC’s mainland network shows that most consumer products enjoyed strong retail sales. A large number of mainland consumers visited Hong Kong for holiday shopping. 

Other Emerging Markets

  • Influenced by the Eurozone’s debt crisis, Central and Eastern European consumers were cautious. Sales were lackluster in both Hungary, given its fragile financial state, and the Czech Republic, because of its heavy reliance on exports to the EU. Year-end sales were stronger in Poland and Russia.
  • As for Latin America, Christmas sales were strong in Brazil, though slightly less so than over the same period last year. Chile, Argentina and Mexico were among the other Latin American countries to record resilient sales over the holiday season.

For the full report, please visit: http://www.hktdc.com/info/mi/a/ef/en/1X07RT4H/1/Economic-Forum/The-Promise-Of-Christmas-2011-In-Major-Markets.htm

Media Enquiries
Please contact the HKTDC's Corporate Communication Department:

Joe Kainz
Tel: (852) 2584 4216
Email: joe.kainz@hktdc.org

About the HKTDC
A statutory body established in 1966, the Hong Kong Trade Development Council (HKTDC) is the international marketing arm for Hong Kong-based traders, manufacturers and service providers. With more than 40 global offices, including 11 on the Chinese mainland, the HKTDC promotes Hong Kong as a platform for doing business with China and throughout Asia. The HKTDC also organises trade fairs and business missions to connect companies with opportunities in Hong Kong and on the mainland, while providing information via trade publications, research reports and online. For more information, please visit: www.hktdc.com 

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