No great expectations from Christmas
By Julian Manduca
November is the month of the dead, and business-wise it is one of the
low points in the year along with January and February, especially where
retail business is concerned. As December kicks off the business community
is hoping for an upswing, but not all are confident.
While many retail outlets usually sell more at Christmas time than during
the rest of the year, some retail outlets told this newspaper that their
expectations are not so high and Christmas orders have been downsized.
The Malta Financial and Business Times spoke to Philip Fenech, the GRTUs
Secretary General and president of its hospitality section who said:
"One has to examine closely the customer base of each business
and judge what proportion is dependent on tourism.
"We know that the tourism industry is going through a particularly
bad patch, even if we are hoping for last minutes bookings.
"As for the retail trade this Christmas, there are those in business
who are expecting more sales before the VAT increase, but there will
always be some sectors enjoying greater sales and others suffering less."
In a lighter vein, Fenech said: "When people awake with their hangovers
on New Years day they will also be aware that the price hikes
But the GRTU is being careful to defend the retailers interests and
has instructed its members not to round prices up when the VAT increase
is included in the price structure.
"Taking advantage of the situation would be tantamount
to shooting oneself in the foot," Fenech said.
Asked whether he had any feedback on importers ordering more or less
in expectation of business sales, Fenech said he knew of none of his
members who were ordering more than last year, although he did not discount
the possibility, while most, he said, were sticking to last years
figures or ordering less.
"I expect that some businesses will be tempted to offer very good
prices or even bargain prices as they are likely to be very careful
about managing their stocks and will not want to be left with high stock
values after the year end."
Talking about restaurants and the leisure industry generally, Fenech
was not optimistic. "One restaurant owner told me he thought last
year was bad, but now has a better idea of how bad things can get. Generally
booking for staff parties are worse than usual, although the last minute
mentality is a trend we have noticed gaining popularity over the past
The GRTU man is of the opinion that what he called the "blind optimism
of the past," is "fading away." The attitude is very
much reflective of the Central Bank of Maltas latest Business
Perceptions Survey, which had found that the level of business optimism
leading up to the referendum on EU membership has now all but faded
He said: "Now everybody knows we have to work to get returns, but
there are some structures that are not pulling their weight." When
asked to clarify, Fenech said he would only be able to do so at a later
In Paceville, which is being renovated, some of the most popular night
spots, including The Alley, Peppermint Park and Sabor de Mexico have
not deemed it worthwhile to open during the weekdays. One popular night
spot recorded its lowest sales ever Monday night. The Las Vegas of Malta
looks more like a ghost town than thriving entertainment Mecca it is
meant to be.
The Malta Financial and Business Times spoke to several retailers and
customs clearance officers who said their import orders were down on
last year, but for reasons of confidentiality the businesses preferred
not to be named.
James Sapienza, a director of Sapienzas, Maltas leading
book sellers told this newspaper he will be happy to reach last years
sales figure for this Christmas period. "My orders for Christmas
are the same as last year, when usually I order more."
Given the lower VAT rate before the year-end, it was expected that there
could be a rush for white and black goods. Timothy Tabone, a director
at Forestals said its orders for Christmas remained similar to last
years and that there was a sales rush, but that it was nothing
out of the ordinary.
Tabone said sales were high because of the low prices and good value
of the products. "Generally people will buy white and black goods
when they want them and will chose the model they like, I dont
expect a slight price change will make any difference," Tabone