Pandemic Spurs Surprise 1.1% Drop In November Retail Sales

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U.S. consumers held on tight to their cash in November, dramatically cutting back on their retail spending as the coronavirus pandemic triggered new business restrictions and outright closures.

U.S. retail sales fell 1.1% to $546.5 billion last month, the Commerce Department reported on Wednesday, down from a revised negative 0.1% pace in October. Economists polled by FactSet had been expecting a decline of 0.3% in November.

The decline marks the first month-over-month drop in the department’s measure of spending at stores, vehicle dealerships, restaurants and online since April. It also reflects a broader retrenchment in spending amid a second wave of Covid-19 infections as well as stalling employment and broader economic growth.

More significantly, the numbers reflect ongoing reticence among consumers to open up their wallets and spend - in person or from home - as the pandemic continues to affect not only peoples' health but their livelihoods. Excluding volatile auto sales, retail sales fell 0.9%.

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