Retail sales fell nearly twice as much in April compared to March as the economy experienced its first full month of business closures due to the coronavirus pandemic, the National Retail Federation (NRF) said Friday.
Economists said the results were expected, and added that reopenings this month combined with relief payments and pent-up demand may provide a bit of a rebound in the sector. NRF data showed that April was down 14.1% seasonally adjusted from March and down 8.7 percent unadjusted year-over-year. NRF’s calculation excludes automobile dealers, gasoline stations, and restaurants in order to focus on core retail, according to the association.
“As predicted, retail sales were bad in April and lower than in March,” NRF Chief Economist Jack Kleinhenz said in a statement. “This should come as no surprise since April was the first full month when most businesses not considered essential were closed, both in retail and across the economy. But month-to-month comparisons provide little insight other than indicating that most of the economy was on lockdown. Now that we’re in mid-May, many businesses are already starting to reopen. Relief payments and pent-up demand should provide some degree of post-shutdown rebound, but spending will be far from normal and may be choppy going forward.”
Data from the U.S. Census Bureau, which includes the categories omitted from NRF’s calculations, showed that April sales were down more than 16% seasonally adjusted from March and down nearly 22% unadjusted year-over-year. That follows a record-setting 8.3 percent month-over-month drop in March, NRF said.
The trade group also said that every category of retail except online was down sequentially in April, including grocery stores and others that had seen a surge in March. Online, grocery stores, and building materials were the only categories that saw a year-over-year gain, according to NRF data.