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Retail sales plunge a record 8.7% in March as coronavirus crisis freezes U.S. economy – MarketWatch

Retail sales plunge a record 8.7% in March as coronavirus crisis freezes U.S. economy - MarketWatch

Economic Report


Published: April 15, 2020 at 10:47 a.m. ET

Auto dealers, clothing stores shellacked, but grocers see surge


Many retail stores have empty parking lots like this one at Macy’s department store in East Garden City, New York. The coronavirus pandemic is likely to leave lasting scars, not to mention lost sales.

Getty Images

The numbers: The onset of the coronavius pandemic triggered a record 8.7% slump sales at U.S. retailers in March as large swaths of the economy shut down — and there’s no light at the end of the tunnel.

Sales fell for the second month in a row in what’s likely to be a prolonged period of agony for an industry that still relies heavily on foot traffic and customers bunched together when they shop.

Retail sales plunge a record 8.7% in March as coronavirus crisis freezes U.S. economy - MarketWatch

It’s unclear when states will allow stores to fully reopen, and even then, there’s no guarantee Americans will return to them in great numbers. Many customers, particularly older ones more vulnerable to the virus, are likely to continue practicing social distancing.

Read: When are stimulus checks being sent out? Here’s how to make sure you get yours

What happened: The plunge in sales last month was more than double the biggest one-month decline during the 2007-2009 Great Recession.

Sales sank 27% at auto dealers and 17% at gas stations, two of biggest segments of the retail industry, according to government figures.

Fewer people are buying cars with millions of Americans losing their jobs and millions more worrying about their next paycheck. Americans also drove less as an economic shutdown spread across the country, exacerbating already steep price declines caused by a global price war that has cut the cost of crude oil by two-thirds in just a few months.

Sales fell a smaller but still crushing 3.1% excluding those categories, but the damage was still unprecedented. Receipts plunged 50% at clothing stores, 26.5% at restaurants and 20% at department stores.

Many restaurants are trying to survive by offering drive-thru, delivery or takeout options, but that hasn’t been enough to prevent a steep dropoff in sales.

Some stores such as grocers, pharmacies, home centers and Internet retailers actually saw a surge in sales as many people ordered online to avoid going out or rushed to local stores to stock up on goods such as pasta, jam, flour, medical face masks, toilet paper and the like.

Grocery sales leaped 27% while Internet receipts rose 3.1%. Health and personal stores posted a 4.3% increase in sales and home centers like Home Depot and Lowe’s recorded a 1.3% gain.

Large sellers such as Amazon AMZN, -3.65% and Walmart WMT, -0.76% have performed strongly with the sudden shift to internet sales. Both companies said they planned to hire tens of thousands of additional workers to handle the extra demand.

See: MarketWatch Economic Calendar

Big picture: Most retailers face a very uncertain future, but one thing is quite clear: The long and ongoing shift to an internet-based business model will accelerate.

Traditional brick-and-mortar retailers were late to the online game and have been losing ground for years to rivals such as Amazon. Without a strong internet presence, retailers struggling with the pandemic are unlikely to survive in the long run.

What they are saying? “The slump in March retail sales was historic, but not unexpected given current circumstances,” said senior economist Andrew Grantham of CIBC.

“Clear signs of panic buying of necessities and the fact that lockdowns were introduced only around the middle of the month means that far worse is to come in April and the second quarter more generally,” said senior U.S. economist Michael Pearce of Capital Economics.

Market reaction: Limited. Economists polled by MarketWatch had expected a 7.1% plunge in retail sales. The Dow Jones Industrial Average DJIA, -1.30% and S&P 500 SPX, -1.23% fell in Wednesday trades.

Источник записи: https://www.marketwatch.com

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