As anticipated, retail sales fell off a cliff in March. According to the Census Bureau, retail sales fell by almost 9%. That is the biggest drop ever for one month.
With people unable to work or go to stores, it was inevitable. Sales at food and grocery stores rose for the month as people stocked up. But those figures will decline as people revert to normal buying habits.
Sales at non-retail stores, mostly online sellers, ticked up 3.1%. That’s a big jump, but perhaps smaller than some would anticipate. It takes time for online sellers to ramp up. And despite its rapid growth in recent years, online buying still only accounts for 14% of all retail sales. People still buy most things in brick-and-mortar stores.
Unfortunately, other data points today were similarly bleak. Industrial production fell by 5.4%, the most since WWII, and home builder confidence fell a record amount.
Tomorrow brings weekly unemployment claims. Hopefully that will provide some optimism if claims recede from recent record highs.
–Curtis Dubay, Senior Economist, U.S. Chamber of Commerce