Sep 17, 2020 - Economy

Retail sales return to trend after coronavirus plunge

Data: U.S. Census Bureau; Chart: Axios Visuals
Data: U.S. Census Bureau; Chart: Axios Visuals

One of the few economic readings sporting a V-shaped recovery is U.S. retail sales, which showed the highest monthly gains in history in May (18.3%) and June (8.4%), and grew in August by 0.6%.

On one hand: While the reading showed a significant slowdown, total retail sales in August were higher than they were before the coronavirus pandemic hit the U.S., even when excluding food services.

  • Spending on electronics rose 0.8%, clothing purchases increased 2.9%, and furniture spending rose 2.1% from July.

On the other hand: There is worry that the slowing pace reflects a slowing economy and consumers pulling back spending because Congress has not passed new relief measures to help the millions of Americans who remain out of work.

  • "Credit- and debit-card data collected by research firm Affinity Solutions and research group Opportunity Insights showed that overall spending was down 7.3% at the end of August compared with January levels," WSJ noted.
  • "JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s tracker of credit- and debit-card transactions showed that spending was down 5.7% over a year ago through Sept. 12, with airlines, travel and entertainment particularly hard hit."

Of note: The retail sales report does not track spending on services like health care, legal, and leisure and hospitality, which make up the lion's share of U.S. consumers' spending.

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