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Economy

Lunar New Year sales turn lackluster in China

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Mainland Chinese rest outside a shop in Hong Kong.   © Reuters

BEIJING -- Retail sales over the weeklong Lunar New Year holidays were rather modest in China, as many people chose to travel abroad.

     Nationwide retail sales came to 678 billion yuan ($108 billion) for the period, according to the Ministry of Commerce. The figure increased 11% on the year, underscoring solid domestic demand. But the growth rate was the slowest since comparable statistics became available in 2005.

     With this being the year of the sheep, many shoppers bought gold and silver jewelry depicting the animal. Cell phones compatible with 4G data services also sold well, as people switched from older handsets.

     But sales of luxury goods fell broadly as the anti-corruption campaign of President Xi Jinping discouraged exchanges of gifts bought with taxpayer money. Many designer-brand stores at a Beijing shopping complex said they maintained normal shifts over the holidays.

     According to the China Youth Daily, families that stayed in Beijing during the holidays spent an average of 98.23 yuan per meal, indicating that the general population has also grown more frugal.

     Meanwhile, Chinese traveling abroad increased notably. About 250 million people traveled domestically or internationally during the holidays, up 11% from the previous year, according to a government research institute for tourism. Those traveling abroad outnumbered domestic travelers for a second straight year.

     At the Beijing airport Tuesday, many Chinese were seen carrying piles of electric appliances bought overseas. Japan, Thailand, and South Korea were among popular destinations.

     Japan in particular drew many Chinese, as the weak yen increased the country's appeal. The Japanese embassy in Beijing issued visas for 250,000 Chinese to visit during the season, more than double from a year earlier.

     Meanwhile, those traveling to Hong Kong decreased for the first time since 1997, the year the territory was returned to China, according to the South China Morning Post. Anti-China demonstrations over the election process for Hong Kong's chief executive likely played a role.

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