Japan’s retail sales extend slump as COVID-19 curbs keep shoppers away

TOKYO: Retail sales in Japan tumbled at a double-digit pace for the second straight month in May as the coronavirus pandemic and lockdown measures delivered a heavy blow to consumer confidence and economic recovery prospects.

The sustained downturn in demand raises risks that the world's third-largest economy could remain mired in recession longer than expected and a revival may be more sluggish.

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Retail sales fell 12.3 per cent in May from a year earlier.

They were pulled down by a slump in spending on big ticket items such as cars as well as clothing and general merchandise, trade ministry data showed on Monday (Jun 29).

The decline followed a 13.9 per cent drop in April, which was the biggest fall since March 1998.

It was also worse than a 11.6 per cent fall forecast by economists in a Reuters poll.

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Policymakers are hoping a rebound in private spending, which accounts for more than half of the economy, will help support growth as uncertainty over the global demand outlook threatens to delay a recovery.

Compared to a month earlier, retail sales in May saw their first rise in three months, increasing a seasonally adjusted 2.1 per cent following a 9.9 per cent drop in April.

"Although consumption has picked up a little, there was a strong sense of caution towards the infection and customers were slow to come back," said Takumi Tsunoda, senior economist at Shinkin Central Bank Research.

Some analysts say cash payouts of 100,000 yen (US$933) per citizen in response to the pandemic could fuel a bout of "revenge spending" following the lifting of a state of emergency in May and as more people get used to social distancing measures, which remain in place in crowded areas.

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