Retail sales continue modest recovery
Despite the struggles of thousands of brick and mortar businesses during the pandemic, retail sales actually edged up modestly in 2020. Total sales for the 12 months of 2020 were up 0.6% from 2019, according to the Department of Commerce retail report issued January 15. Although sales in December declined 0.7% from the previous month (adjusted for seasonal variation), sales were 2.9% higher than December 2019.
The brightest spot in retail sales in 2020 was non-store sales (primarily online), up 22.1% over 2019 sales. For the month of December, sales were down 5.8% from a month earlier but up 19.2% over December 2019 sales.
It was also a strong year for building materials and garden equipment as homeowners focused on home improvement projects during the pandemic. Sales were up 14.0% for the year and up 0.9% from a month earlier in December. Auto sales also enjoyed a solid year in 2020, up 1.1% over 2019 sales. Food and beverage stores also did well – up 11.5% from 2019.
But many retail areas suffered significant declines in 2020. Electronics and appliance store sales were down 14.6% from 2019, clothing stores were down 26.4%, department store sales were down 18.1%, and restaurants and drinking places were down 19.5% from 2019.
Unemployment dips slightly
Although the nation added only 49,000 new jobs in January, the unemployment rate fell by 0.4% from 6.7% to 6.3%, according to the Department of Labor Employment Situation Report issued February 5. According to the report, “the labor market continued to reflect the impact of the coronavirus pandemic and efforts to contain it,” with job gains in professional and business services offset by losses in leisure and hospitality, retail trade, health care and transportation and warehousing.
Since the pandemic began to take hold in the U.S. last February, the workforce is still down 9.9 million jobs. According to the report 14.8 million people reported that they had been unable to work in January – or worked fewer hours – because their employer closed or lost business due to the pandemic. The number of persons employed part time for economic reasons, at 6.0 million, was little changed in January.
The average hourly earnings for all employees on private nonfarm payrolls increased by 6 cents to $29.96 in January.
Weekly unemployment claims remained at a high level in January, with nearly 900,000 Americans per week filing new unemployment claims. However, claims declined somewhat in the last week of January to 779,000.
Most sectors slip in January
Only four of the 11 sectors of the S&P 500 made gains in January, led by Energy, up 3.79%, Health Care, up 1.42%, Real Estate, up 0.53%, and Consumer Discretionary, up 0.41%.
The biggest losers for the month were Consumer Staples, down 5.17%, and Industrials, down 4.30%.
The chart below shows the results of the 11 sectors for the past month: