Retail sales declined in February, according to the U.S. Commerce Department, down 0.5% from the previous month. The February drop in sales was the biggest since a 2% decline in December 2018. Sales had been up 0.6% in January.
The dip below expectations shows signs the economy began to strain as threat from the new coronavirus started to take hold, The Wall Street Journal wrote. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast retail sales climbing 0.2% in February.
Sales were down in nearly every category, with e-commerce serving as one of the lone bright spots.
General merchandise stores: Down 0.1%
Online and non-store sales: Up 0.7%
Grocery stores: Down 0.1%
Furniture and home furnishing stores: Down 0.4%
Clothing and clothing accessory stores: Down 1.2%
Building materials and garden supply stores: Down 1.3%
Sporting goods stores: Up 0.1%
Health and personal care stores: Down 0.1%
Electronics and appliance stores: Down 1.4%
As the United States reckons with the effects widespread store closures will have on the economy, analysts widely expect things to worsen. Neil Saunders, managing director of GlobalData, said 24,050 stores have temporarily closed in the United States as of March 18 at 10:40 a.m. EST. That translates to 10.5% of all stores and a combination of $11.8 billion store sales.
The firm expects retail sales growth to drop 5.9% year over year in March, 5.7% in April and 1.8% in May.