Feb 18, 2021 08:19 PM

Charts of the Day: Lunar New Year Brings Mixed Fortunes for China’s Economy

Chinese consumers opened their wallets over this year’s weeklong Lunar New Year holiday, with spending on goods and services, eating out, and going to the movies rebounding strongly from a slump during the 2020 festival when the economy was in the grip of the Covid-19 outbreak.

But transport slumped for a second year running as the government urged the country’s 1.4 billion people to avoid going back to their hometowns or taking vacations away from their city of residence in order to curb the spread of the coronavirus after a series of mini coronavirus outbreaks across the country.

Sales of key retail and catering companies during the weeklong public holiday, which started on Feb. 11, reached about 821 billion yuan ($127 billion), a 28.7% jump from the holiday period last year and a 4.9% increase compared with the 2019 festival break, data (link in Chinese) from the Ministry of Commerce showed on Wednesday. The ministry didn’t release an estimate for total retail sales over the official break, although it said spending on goods such as appliances and fitness equipment and on offline services including eating out and short trips were boosted by the staycation trend.

The ministry also disclosed that average daily visitor flow at shopping centers in 10 large cities was 14% lower than during the Lunar New Year holiday in 2019, suggesting that despite the trend toward staycations, consumer spending remained relatively cautious.

The consumption recovery may not be quite as impressive as the headline data show, according to some analysts. The rapid growth in the Lunar New Year sales from 2020 was mainly due to the low comparison base last year when the economy shut down due to Covid-19, Chen Xi, a fixed-income analyst at Pacific Securities Co. Ltd., wrote in a Wednesday note (link in Chinese). Excluding the base line effect, sales fell 2%, according to Chen’s estimate.

“The strong box office during the holiday created the illusion that overall spending was hot,” he wrote. High-end consumption in large cities is different from overall nationwide consumption because one of the consequences of the pandemic last year was that affluent consumers increased their wealth but the gap between rich and poor widened, Chen wrote.


The Lunar New Year is traditionally a golden time for movie-going with many films released to coincide with the holiday. This time last year, theaters were shut as vast swathes of the country went into lockdown to prevent the spread of Covid-19. But this year, with the economy almost back to normal, consumers flocked to the cinema, sending box office receipts to a record. From Feb. 11 to 17, movie takings in China topped 7.8 billion yuan, 32.5% more than during the holiday period in 2019, according to data from Dengta app, a data and services platform for the cinema industry.

The two highest-grossing films were both made by Chinese studios, according to Dengta –– “Detective Chinatown 3,” the third installment of a police comedy film franchise, and “Hi, Mom,” a time-travel family comedy.

But not every sector was a winner in the holiday economy. Travel during the Lunar New Year plunged again as authorities discouraged cross-region movement to contain clusters of Covid-19 outbreaks. The number of domestic passenger trips made by car, rail, air and water transport was estimated to have fallen to 97.7 million over the weeklong break, a 57.9% drop from the holiday period last year and 71.5% lower than in 2019, the Ministry of Transport said (link in Chinese) on Wednesday.


While spending in larger cities was underpinned by staycationing urbanites and migrant workers who decided not to return to their hometowns, that had a negative impact on cross-region transport and tourism, Zhao Wei, chief economist at Kaiyuan Securities Co. Ltd., wrote in an opinion piece (link in Chinese).

Contact reporter Guo Yingzhe ( and editor Nerys Avery (

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