Retail Sales Plunge a Record 16.4% in April

Retail sales plunge 16.4% in April as U.S. consumers keep their cash stashed tightly in their wallets amid the coronavirus lockdowns.
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U.S. consumers kept their cash stashed tightly in their wallets in April, holding off on shopping and dining as the coronavirus lockdowns across the country literally kept people from spending, retail spending figures for April showed on Friday.

U.S. retail sales, a measure of purchases at stores, gas stations, restaurants, bars and online, dropped a record 16.4% last month, almost double March's 8.7% decline, which was the steepest month-on-month drop since 1992 when record-keeping began. 

Even sales at the gasoline pumps registered declines last month, reflected in a 16.2% drop in core retail sales, which strips out more volatile auto and gas sales.

Analysts polled by FactSet had been expecting a drop 11.4%, and a decline of 7.7% excluding auto sales, which normally account for a large proportion of the numbers, though even car and truck dealerships weren't selling last month.

Social distancing, business closures, travel restrictions and other disruptions that began in mid-March came into full force and visibility in April as states imposed mandatory stay-at-home orders and consumers focused their shopping on essentials. 

As expected, declines were steep and across the board, with notable drops in clothing (-78.8%), electronics (-60.6%), furniture (-58.7%), sporting goods (-38%) and department stores (-28.9%). Registering slightly less eye-popping declines were health (-15.2%) and groceries (-13.2%).

Online, which is measured as a separate category, rose 8.4%, the Census Bureau said - a category that includes internet merchants such as Amazon  (AMZN) - Get Report.  

Separately on Friday, U.S. industrial production plunged 11.2% in April, marking the steepest monthly drop on record, according to the St. Louis Federal Reserve. 

U.S. economic growth literally slammed into reverse in the first quarter, registering its first contraction in six years and its sharpest drop since the last recession as the coronavirus pandemic shut down the economy with unprecedented ferocity.

The retail sales numbers add to a grim picture of the impact that widespread disruptions in the U.S. economy have caused - particularly since responses to the pandemic only began in earnest in the final three weeks of March. 

On Thursday, the Labor Department reported that an additional 3 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits last week, bringing the total of unemployment claims since the pandemic began past the 36-million mark.