Retail Sales Show Spending Spree Continued in April

Chef placing plate of food on service counter
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U.S. retail sales in April stayed even with March’s torrid pace, a positive sign as consumers prepare for a summer out in an increasingly reopened economy.

April retail and food sales stayed virtually unchanged from March at $619.9 billion, according to seasonally adjusted data released by the U.S. Census Bureau Friday, after a third round of government stimulus checks fueled double-digit growth in March. Declines at furniture, clothing, and department stores were offset by people eager to get up and out, with a 3% increase at restaurants and bars and a 3.1% jump at auto dealers.

“Unlike last summer when most people were stuck at home, just about everybody is ready to get out and go some place this summer,” Tim Quinlan and Shannon Seery, economists at Wells Fargo, wrote in a commentary.

Consumers who rushed to clothing and department stores in March have started shifting toward services like travel and dining out as restrictions lift and concerns about contracting COVID-19 fade. When asked about the first thing they would splurge on once society reopened, U.S. adults surveyed by Charles Schwab in February most commonly said vacations and meals at fancy restaurants.

The economy was in the depth of its pandemic-caused shutdown last April, making a year-over-year comparison with last year not useful. But compared to April 2019, sales were 21% higher, showing just how much the government aid and people’s desire to re-emerge into society has impacted spending patterns this spring.

April’s lack of growth was slightly below the 1% increase economists had expected, according to a median estimate cited by Moody’s Analytics. Growth for March was revised to 10.7%, up from 9.7%, the second-largest one-month gain since the government started keeping track.