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US retail sales plunge 16.4% in April amid COVID-19 closures

US retail sales plunge 16.4% in April amid COVID-19 closures

Shoppers carry bags of purchased merchandise at the King of Prussia Mall, United States' largest retail shopping space, in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, US, Dec 8, 2018. (Photo: REUTERS/Mark Makela)

WASHINGTON: US retail sales plunged by 16.4 per cent in April as the coronavirus pandemic forced businesses shut across the world's largest economy, the Commerce Department said on Friday (May 15). 

The drop was much worse than expected and saw massive contractions in an array of retailers, including clothing, furniture, electronics and appliances and food and drinking places, all of which posted double-digit declines.

The index had sunk in March by an upwardly revised 8.3 per cent, but April's survey was the first to reflect a full month of lockdowns imposed to stem the spread of the virus.

The seasonally adjusted US$403.9 billion in sales in April reversed years of growth and brought the index back to the level reached in August 2012.

The CEO of the National Retail Federation, Matthew Shay, called the data "not a surprise given the current state of affairs" and predicted a rebound.

"Prior to this pandemic, retail was setting records in year-over-year growth, employment and investment. It is a resilient industry serving a smart consumer, and despite today's report, we know it will be leading our nation's economic recovery as this crisis recedes," he said in a statement.

Yet the damage was deep and the worst performers were businesses centered on getting people to visit stores and shopping malls, though e-commerce and grocery businesses showed signs of growth.

Clothing stores dropped 78.8 per cent compared to March, electronic and appliances stores by 60.6 percent and furniture stores by 58.7 per cent.

Gas station sales dropped 28.8 percent as oil prices remained low.

However, non-store retailers, such as those doing business online, grew month-on-month by 8.4 per cent, while food and beverage stores declined compared to March but posted growth of 12 per cent compared to April of last year, aided by the closure of restaurants.

Source: AFP/ad

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