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Retail Doesn’t Need Therapy


U.S. retailers took in about as much money in April as they did in March. You should actually be impressed.

The Commerce Department on Friday reported that retail sales—spending in stores, at restaurants and online—was unchanged last month from March, adjusting for seasonal swings. That was short of the 0.8% gain economists were looking for, but then again, the March sales increase from a month earlier was revised to 10.7% from 9.8%.

That March gain was fueled by the arrival of the latest round of stimulus checks from the government which, in concert with the easing of the pandemic, gave many Americans the wherewithal and the willingness to spend more.

An analysis conducted by Bank of America economists on their firm’s credit and debit-card data shows that it was poorer people—those that by nature have the most unmet needs—who increased their spending the most in March. They have since settled down.

Yet for sales to merely be flat after a surge like March’s, particularly in the midst of a monthslong recovery, is somewhat remarkable. Compare it with, for example, the pattern that followed the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. That October, sales rose 6.7% from a month earlier, then fell 2.5% in November and kept dropping over the next two months.

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