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US retail sales flat in April after March surge

·1-min read
Auto sales increased modesly in April, but total US retail sales were flat

After a rush of shopping in March, US consumers took a break in April and total retail sales were flat, according to government data released Friday.

Sales held steady at just under $620 billion, as declines in clothing, sporting goods, furniture, gasoline and even the roaring ecommerce market were offset by gains in cars, electronics, food and health care, the Commerce Department's advance report said.

The cooling off came after a 10.7 percent jump in March compared to February, and was far worse than the consensus among economists, which projected a modest increase.

Sales in April were more than 51 percent higher than the same month last year, when the Covid-19 pandemic first forced the near-shutdown of the world's largest economy.

Even with the influx of another round of government stimulus payments, consumers seemed to take a pause.

Ian Shepherdson of Pantheon Macroeconomics called the result "a modest post-stimulus hangover after the March binge."

But he predicted a bigger increase in May as Americans begin to spend "some of the hundreds of billions of dollars of savings accumulated during the pandemic."

Motor vehicle and parts sales were up just 2.9 percent in the month, and excluding the auto sector, total retail sales actually fell 0.8 percent, according to the report.

Gardening and home improvement sales were one category that held steady throughout the pandemic lockdowns, but dipped 0.1 percent last month.

With more Americans vaccinated against Covid-19 and authorities relaxing social distancing restrictions, sales at restaurants and bars rose 3.0 percent, the report said.

However, online sales slipped 0.3 percent -- a rare decline -- but are up 29 percent from a year ago.

hs/cs

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