March saw the largest one-month drop in retail sales since records began over 30 years ago, with the coronavirus pandemic shutting down stores and restricting spending nationwide. While some stores did see gains due to rising demand for essential items, these gains were offset by sharp drops in the majority of categories.
Retail sales fell 8.7% in March vs. 7.1% expected, according to the Commerce Department. The drop is more than double the former record of almost 4% decline in the fall of 2008 during the Great Recession.
- Retail sales fell a record 8.7%, well over twice the largest decline seen since records began.
- April sales could be worse, as many nonessential businesses only closed in the last few weeks.
- Sales rose in pharmacies, groceries, and online stores while falling in other areas like clothing.
Retail sales have taken a steep plunge, and are likely to stay down in the near future, with April figures slated to be even worse than March. The retail industry relies heavily on foot traffic, and brick-and-mortar businesses have closed down throughout the US, many of which may be put out of business permanently by the time the quarantine restrictions have lifted.
Auto dealers saw a massive 27% drop in sales, with Americans spending less on cars amid record unemployment rates with tens of millions of people out of work in the last month alone. Gas stations saw a 17% drop in sales due to reduced demand during coronavirus containment protocols.
These two categories are the largest segments of the retail industry, and accounted for the majority of losses. Excluding these two categories, sales still fell 3.1%, a dire figure taking into account the former record drop of around 4%. Sales at clothing stores tanked 50%, with 26.5% losses in restaurants and 20% losses in department stores.
While not totally surprising given the shutdown’s scale, today’s plunge in Retail Sales still massive in historical context.
Given the macro risks of demand destruction here, I still believe a temporary 0% federal tax rate makes sense. Let workers keep their money, spur demand! pic.twitter.com/AA2acFzw92
— Steve Cortes (@CortesSteve) April 15, 2020
Internet retailers saw increased sales, as did grocery stores, due to increased demand for essential items. Amazon saw 5.27% increased sales, despite many Amazon sellers forced to abandon non-essential product lines. Walmart saw 2.95% increased sales, thanks to its e-commerce shopping options. Both companies have announced plans for hiring tens of thousands of new workers to meet increased demand.
Sector in Danger
Many retailers are faced with the harsh reality that there stores may remain closed for the foreseeable future, and that with a collapsed labor market, sales will likely be subdued when they reopen. For some, overhead costs will grow too high during the quarantine period to stay afloat.
The retail industry has already been shifting over the past decade to an internet-based model, and the coronavirus pandemic will greatly accelerate that transition. With lower overhead costs, a wider market, and now, reduced competition from brick-and-mortar business, the e-commerce boom is well-positioned to continue. Any retailers without a strong internet presence are likely to face hardship in the coming months, and possibly beyond.
Gold prices have seen a major downward correction following strong growth in today’s session. Spot gold last traded at $1,724.36, down -2.29% with a high of $1,738.56/oz and a low of $1,709.57/oz. The news of the record drop in retail sales has had little impact on the price of gold, which is seeing a natural correction following the strong gains that took the precious metal into the mid-$1700 range earlier this week.