U.S. retail sales unexpectedly stalled in April as the boost from stimulus checks faded, but an acceleration is likely in the coming months amid record savings and a reopening economy.
The Commerce Department said on Friday the unchanged reading in retail sales last month followed a 10.7% surge in March, an upward revision from the previously reported 9.7% increase.
Economists polled by Reuters had forecast retail sales would rise 1.0%.
Many qualified households received additional $1,400 checks in March, which were part of the White House’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 pandemic rescue package approved early that month.
Retail sales account for the goods component of consumer spending, with services such as healthcare, education, travel and hotel accommodation making up the other portion. Households have accumulated at least $2.3 trillion in excess savings during the pandemic, which should underpin spending this year.
Coming on the heels of news this month that hiring slowed in April amid a shortage of workers, the weak sales could cause anxiety about the economic recovery. Though more than a third of Americans have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, fears about the virus linger and schools have not fully reopened for in-person learning, keeping many workers at home.
Excluding automobiles, gasoline, building materials and food services, retail sales dropped 1.5% last month after an upwardly revised 7.6% increase in March. These so-called core retail sales correspond most closely with the consumer spending component of gross domestic product. They were previously estimated to have shot up 6.9% in March.
Consumer spending, which accounts for more than two-thirds of U.S. economic activity, expanded at a 10.7% annualized rate in the first quarter, adding 7.02 percentage points to the economy’s 6.4% annualized growth pace.
Much of the surge in consumer spending last quarter occurred in March, which set a higher growth base for consumption heading into the second quarter.