Retail sales surge
Armed with a new round of stimulus payments, consumers went on a shopping spree in March, driving retail sales up 9.8% from the previous month, according to the Department of Commerce retail report issued April 15. Part of the increase in sales is also attributed to depressed sales in February due to massive snow storms.
Total sales for the January through March period were up 14.3% from the same period a year ago.
Auto sales were up 15.1% for the month – and up 71.1% from a year earlier; building material sales were up 12.1% for the month and 29.4% from a year earlier; clothing sales were up 18.3% for the month and 101.1% from a year earlier; and department store sales were up 13.0% for the month and 25.6% from a year earlier.
Restaurants and bars also showed signs of a recovery as business reopened. The food services and drinking places category was up 13.4% for the month and 36.0% from a year earlier. Non-store retailers (primarily online) were up 6.0% for the month and 28.7% from a year earlier.
Unemployment claims drop
Unemployment claims have continued to drop as the economy picks up. The four-week moving average for unemployment claims through April 24 was 611,750 – a decline of 44,000 from the previous week’s average, according to a Department of Labor report issued on April 29. That’s the lowest 4-week average since March 14, 2020 when the pandemic began to sweep the U.S.
For the week ending April 24, 533,000 unemployment claims were filed – a decline of 13,000 claims from the previous weeks. Unemployment claims are expected to continue to decline as the economy strengthens.
All sectors post gains in April
All 11 sectors the S&P 500 posted gains in April, led by the red-hot Real Estate sector, which was up 8.28%. Other leaders included Communications Services, up 7.85%, Consumer Discretionary, up 7.10%, and Financials, up 6.57%.
The chart below shows the results of the 11 sectors for the past month and year-to-date: