SCIO briefing on China's economic performance in first quarter of 2021

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Red Star News:

My question is, judging from the statistics of the first quarter (Q1) of 2021, the consumption sector has rebounded significantly. What's your take on the recovery and in what areas has there been a relatively slow recovery? What measures will be taken to continue to expand consumption in the future? Thanks.

Liu Aihua:

Thanks for your questions. Judging from the data released just now, the total retail of consumer goods surged by 33.9% year on year in Q1, with an average two-year growth of 4.2%. Data show that this year, the consumer market is riding the quarterly recovery momentum from last year, showing a rapid rate of recovery. The three characteristics are as follows: 

First, the retail of goods maintained relatively rapid growth. Sales of goods grew by 30.4% year on year or average two-year growth of 4.8%. For sales of goods by enterprises above the designated size, the year-on-year growth rate in 18 categories of goods exceeded 10%. Specifically, sales of eight categories of goods, including sports, recreational, and communication equipment, increased by an average two-year growth rate of more than 10%.

Second, online sales saw a growing momentum. In Q1, online sales of physical goods reported an average two-year growth of 15.4%, accounting for 21.9% of the total sales of consumer goods.

Third, consumption sectors, such as the catering industry and offline consumption, which were buffered from recovery in the early stages, are now rebounding rapidly. In March, China's catering industry grew at an average two-year rate of 0.9%, which means that the monthly growth rate was higher than that of the same period in 2019 for the first time since 2020. Regarding offline consumption, sales of goods in physical retail shops above the designated size rose by 42.2% year on year in Q1, with an average two-year growth of 4.5%, 0.4 percentage point higher than that of the Jan-Feb period, showing a speedy recovery.

During the Tomb-Sweeping Day holiday, Chinese residents demonstrated a strong consumer demand for tourism and movies. Data from relevant departments shows that the total number of domestic trips topped 102 million during the holiday, recovering to 94.5% of the pre-COVID-19 level. From April 2 to 5, the number of railway passenger journeys rose by 225.8% compared with last year's Tomb-Sweeping Day holiday, recovering to 92.4% of 2019 levels. In the film market, China generated more than 800 million yuan in box office revenue during the three-day Tomb-Sweeping Day holiday, a record high in the same period compared to previous years.

From these numbers, we can see that there has been a rapid recovery in both online and offline sales of goods as well as in sectors such as catering and tourism, which had previously seen a relatively slow recovery and raised many concerns. Influenced by last year's base figures, the year-on-year growth was relatively rapid. With total sales of consumer goods dropping by 19% in Q1 of last year, on the basis of such a low base figure, sales of consumer goods registered a relatively fast growth rate of over 30%. There are also other contributing factors. The improved consumption environment boosted residents' confidence. Residents with an increased income demonstrated their strong consumption capacity. Favorable policies for expanding domestic demand and promoting consumption boosted the sale of major consumer goods. All of these are the reasons behind the rapid growth of the consumer market in Q1.

You just asked about what future trends we're likely to see for the recovery of the consumer market. Generally speaking, since last year, the consumer market has stood the severe test of the pandemic. The advantages of a mega-scale market are obvious and the momentum of upgraded consumption has remained unchanged. In the future, as the economy recovers steadily and residents' income continues to increase, there will be a greater impetus for promoting consumption capacity. China enhanced its responses to COVID-19 and took more targeted measures for pandemic prevention and control, which were also helpful in improving the consumption environment. Policies for expanding domestic demand and promoting consumption are paying off. The building of a new "dual circulation" development pattern that allows the domestic and overseas markets to reinforce each other with the domestic market as the mainstay, is speeding up. All these will support the steady recovery of the consumer market. At the same time, we should notice that China is still facing pressure from imported cases as well as the resurgence of outbreaks at home, which may affect consumer confidence. So we need to continue to coordinate the work of pandemic prevention and control and the economic and social development and improve the urban-rural logistics system to offer more favorable conditions for consumption. We will also work to maintain stability in employment, increase people's income and ensure that relevant policies are implemented in detail to sustain the steady consumption recovery. Thanks.

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