US Retail Sales Fell in February Ahead of Virus Impact

US Retail Sales Fell in February Ahead of Virus Impact

March 17, 2020
Consumers had already begun to scale back before the number of coronavirus cases in the U.S. began accelerating, so it's not clear if the figures reflect any added boost from widespread supply stockpiling.

U.S. retail sales fell in February by the most in a year, indicating the main driver of the U.S. economy, consumer spending, had begun to slow even before coronavirus containment measures began rippling through the economy.

The value of overall sales decreased 0.5% from the prior month after a 0.6% gain in January, Commerce Department figures showed on March 17.. The median estimate in a Bloomberg survey called for a 0.2% advance.

Sales in the “control group” subset, which some analysts view as a more reliable gauge of underlying consumer demand, were little changed, compared with projections for a 0.4% gain. The measure excludes food services, car dealers, building-materials stores and gasoline stations.

The report suggests consumers had already begun to scale back before the number of coronavirus cases in the U.S. began accelerating.

It’s not clear if the figures reflect any added boost from widespread supply stockpiling as Americans headed to grocery stores and online retailers to buy the essentials. Grocery store sales fell 0.1% after a 0.2% decline, the report showed.

The numbers starting from March on are likely to show a deep hit to many categories as conferences, restaurants and sports shut down across the nation.

Spending at automobile dealers fell 0.9%. Excluding automobiles and gasoline, retail sales dropped 0.2% from the prior month, compared with projections for a gain.

Personal-spending figures will offer a fuller picture of U.S. consumption in data due at the end of the month.

By Reade Pickert

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