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  Today Online 16 Dec 06
Hazy Oct slowest retail month

The shoppers stayed home and the cash tills weren't ringing as loud in October, and it seems retailers have the haze to blame.

Singapore's retail sales growth slumped to a 20-month low in October, according to the latest retail sales index. It increased 1.6 per cent from a year ago, but that was less than the median forecast of 2.4 per cent in a Bloomberg survey of 12 economists and the smallest gain since February last year.

With a booming economy and a strong index the previous month, analysts say the stunted growth was unexpected.

Said Mr Tomo Kinoshita, an economist with Nomura Securities: "It's a surprising number, given the state of the economy.

"However, during the haze, people were more reluctant to go out and that affected spending."

Singapore suffered heightened air pollution for much of October as smoke haze from fires on the Indonesian islands of Sumatra and Borneo blanketed the island. The air quality in Singapore was "moderate to unhealthy", with the Pollutant Standards Index hitting a high of 150 on Oct 7.

The latest numbers come as economists are still calculating the economic costs of the haze.

So far, figures have been estimates at best, backed by anecdotal evidence from retailers.

Associate-Professor Euston Quah, head of the Economics division at Nanyang Technological University, had estimated a loss of US$50 million ($77 million) as of mid-October. He took into consideration a rise in respiratory illness, hospitalisation and treatment costs, losses in tourism and productivity, among other things.

According to figures released by the Singapore Tourism Board last month, the number of visitors to Singapore in October rose 15 per cent to 857,000 from a year earlier, boosted by a 48-per-cent increase in travellers from neighbouring Indonesia and Malaysia, which were also affected by the haze. The number of tourists from other markets such as China, Hong Kong, Japan and Thailand, however, fell.

A smoke haze in 1997 incurred costs of $300 million in Singapore, including $210 million in lost tourism earnings and $5 million for medical fees, the newspaper said, citing a study by Prof Quah. Bloomberg

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