Economic Forecasts

Retail: Sales Expected to Jump in March and April

Kiplinger’s latest forecast on retail sales and consumer spending.

Retail sales are expected to jump in March and April, thanks to $1,400 per-person stimulus checks already being sent out. Big-ticket items like new and used motor vehicles will undoubtedly benefit, as the checks will combine with normal tax refunds to fund down payments. But all categories of retail will benefit.

Retail sales are expected to grow 10% this year, following a more moderate increase of 3% last year when pandemic shutdowns reduced sales during some months. Much of 2021’s growth will be front-loaded into the first half of the year, because of the boost from relaxations of COVID-19-related restrictions and spending of government stimulus checks. Also, some consumer cash will be diverted to more services in the second half, rather than goods.

E-commerce sales are expected to grow 13%, down from last year’s 25%, but still a strong performance. In-store sales are expected to rise 7%, up from 2% last year, as pandemic restrictions are relaxed. Motor vehicle sales should rise 16% to 16.8 million units, after a 15% drop last year to 14.4 million units. Restaurant sales will grow strongly, up 16%, after dropping 19% last year. Sit-down dining should especially benefit from the vaccination campaign. Currently, 29% of the nation’s adults have been vaccinated with at least one dose.

A 3% drop in sales in February can be blamed both on bad weather and a normal pullback from January’s surge in sales. All categories of retail were affected by the pullback except for groceries.

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