Economists' Outlook

Housing stats and analysis from NAR's research experts.

Instant Reaction: Retail Trade Sales May 14, 2021

"U.S. advance estimates of retail and food service sales for April 2021 essentially remained unchanged from March 2021. Consumer retail spending recorded a seasonally adjusted total of $619.9 billion in April. April's spending figures reflect consumers' continued positive sentiment about the current economic environment as consumer confidence sharply increased in April, following the sizable gain in March. April's retail spending also captures the recent round of stimulus payments, vaccine distribution, and loosening of pandemic-related restrictions.

While retail spending for April was steady, April's year-over-year figure far exceeds the norm as sales rose dramatically from April 2020. The retail sales data released today increased 51.2% above April 2020. While the figure is fantastic, last year's numbers were very dismal, as the pandemic forced retailers, and retail overall, to operate differently, if at all. Considering that April was the worst month of 2020 and that it is the base comparison for this month's figures, April 2021's growth rates are favorable. This month's figures illustrate the difference between those retailers who remained open and those who did not. The benefits from the economic impact payments on spending really showed in March, and although April's numbers are marginally better, it illustrates that retail spending is moving ahead solidly.

The U.S. Census Bureau's adjusted data saw significant year-over-year increases for both March 2021 and April 2021 as they were atypical considering the different economic environments of comparison. While month-over-month figures did see decreases over the past year, year-over-year sales increased every month since June 2020.

Using adjusted Census data, retail trade sales were down 0.3% from March 2021 and up 46.1% year-over-year with huge increases across the board. The largest increase was clothing and clothing accessories stores, up 726.8% from April 2020. Food services and drinking places were up 116.8% from one year ago. Using data that has not been subjected to seasonal adjustments yields retail trade sales up 45% year-over-year, clothing and clothing accessories stores up 711%, and food services and drinking places up 119%."

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