April Retail Sales Virtually Unchanged

U.S. retail sales remained unchanged during April, according to latest figures from the U.S. Census Bureau.
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Advance estimates for adjusted retail and food service sales in April were $619.9 billion. That’s “virtually unchanged” from March, the Census Bureau reported.

The stagnation comes after retail sales surged in March in the aftermath of fresh stimulus checks from the federal government. The April sales figures dropped the same week as other critical economic data that revealed the U.S. economy is experiencing inflation, shortages and a major slowdown in hiring. Just 266,000 new positions were added to the U.S. economy in April, well below the 1 million jobs predicted by economists. 

The retail sales report was also unexpected, as many analysts predicted nearly a 1% increase in sales for the month, The Wall Street Journal reported. Year-over-year retail sales were up 51.2%. Clothing and accessories stores were up 726.8% in April 2021 compared to the same period last year. Retail sales, excluding automobile dealers, gasoline stations and restaurants, were up 28.8% year-over-year, according to calculations by the National Retail Federation.

“Today’s year-over-year numbers are off the charts in some categories, reflecting the disparity between retailers that could remain open a year ago and those that were forced to shut down,” said NRF Chief Economist Jack Kleinhenz. “Consumers may have tapped the brakes slightly in April compared with March, but it was like going from 100 mph to 85 mph compared with last year. The fuel from stimulus checks gave a strong boost to spending in March and the fact that April numbers are very close shows spending is clearly going forward and still strong.”

However, sales in several retail categories fell slightly from March, including clothing and accessories stores (-5.1%); sporting goods, hobby, musical instrument and book stores (-3.6%); general merchandise stores (-4.9%); and department stores (-1.9%). These categories remained elevated on a year-over-year basis. Motor vehicles and other parts dealers, and food services and drinking places saw sales rise during the month.

The figures come a day after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a new guidance for people vaccinated against COVID-19. Vaccinated people do not have to wear masks in indoor or outdoor settings, with exceptions for public transit, airplanes and in healthcare settings. 

“Consumers are demonstrating that when they feel safe, they are both willing and able to spend and are driving the economy forward,” NRF CEO and President Matthew Shay said in a statement. “The CDC’s updated guidance for fully vaccinated individuals will help further open the economy and get more people back to work. Retailers will continue to follow coronavirus-related laws and regulations governing store operations in each state and we urge lawmakers and government officials to prioritize policies that both encourage work and continued safety.”