A customer wearing a protective mask will visit a Costco store in San Francisco, California on Wednesday, March 3, 2021.
David Paul Morris | Bloomberg | Getty images
Retail sales are expected to be strong in March, and some economists say stimulus controls quickly made their way into the economy, contributing to even greater gains of 10% or more.
The March sales data, released Thursday at 8:30 a.m. ET, could be the first in a string of powerful consumer spending reports as vaccinations increase and the economic reopening continues. The $ 1,400 tax incentive vouchers sent to individuals as of mid-March appear to have boosted spending in an environment of pent-up demand.
“We expect the March retail sales report to be excellent, with both headline and core retail sales increasing more than 11% month after month,” Bank of America economists wrote. “Incentive, reopening and better weather served as a powerful cocktail for consumer spending.”
A multi-month burst of consumer spending is expected to kickstart an economy that is expected to boom this year. The strongest growth is expected in the current quarter, which some economists believe could deliver gross domestic product growth of more than 10%. That compares to the second quarter of last year, when the economic shutdowns resulted in a collapse of the economy, with GDP falling 33.3%.
Economists expect retail sales to rise a consensus of 6.1% in March, or 5.3% excluding automobiles, Dow Jones said. That’s comparable to a 3% drop in sales in February, when severe winter weather resulted in a freeze in the South with massive power outages in Texas.
But some economists say spending data shows sales could be even stronger. “It will rise more than 10%. Unlike May last year, it will be a record high. There are many car sales, higher gas prices and a lot more,” said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics. “The restaurants are coming back. Clothing stores have skyrocketed. This is the reopening of retail and it will be reflected in the numbers.”
Zandi said he expects retail sales to be up 10.3% in February, which should be 28% from a year ago level.
“It’s opening up again. It’s incentive money. It’s paid back, all coming together to be a gangbuster number,” Zandi said. “I think we’ll see very strong numbers going. We’re going.”
Zandi said the business-to-business spend data supports his view. According to software company Cortera, recently acquired by Moody’s, spending by all companies was up 14.5% in March from last year, while retailer spending was up 9%.
Zandi said retailers and other companies, such as airlines, benefiting from a reopening economy outperformed companies working from home for the first time since the start of the pandemic.
“Spending was up in most retail segments, with restaurants, furniture stores, clothing stores, gas stations and sporting goods stores in the lead,” Cortera said. “In food and beverage stores, spending fell, while consumption shifted back to restaurants and bars.”
Cortera, who tracks about $ 1.7 trillion in business spending, found that food and beverage retail spending was 14.6% lower than last year, but food and beverage outlets, such as bars and restaurants, were up just under 20 % more than last year.
Bank of America’s credit card spending also rose sharply at the end of March. BofA economists said there was a 67% increase in card spending over the seven-day period ending April 3. Spending in that period was also 20% higher than the same period of 2019.
“Animal spirits have risen noticeably as the conference board’s confidence measure rose to 109.7 in March, the largest one-month gain since April 2003,” noted Bank of America economists. “Consumers can drive up their spending while still saving more – we think the savings will be about 20%, if not higher, by March.”
Kevin Cummins, NatWest’s chief US economist, said he expects a 10% increase in sales in March sales and admits it is at the top of the forecasts. He expects sales will be boosted by the $ 1,400 incentive checks sent to individuals that started reaching bank accounts around March 17.
“The back of the month should be very strong,” he said. “If you look at car sales, it was the highest level in four years. It seems like restaurants are getting busier, with outdoor seating.”
The set of forecasts is unusually broad, with economists expecting gains of 4% to 11.5%. That means the market reaction can be volatile.
Normally, pre-pandemically, the range can be 1 percentage point [apart], maybe 2, ”said Michael Schumacher, Wells Fargo’s director of rates.
Bank of America economists said the retail sales data could spark a new debate as to whether business will pick up spending to boost the economy after soaring consumer spending.
“With the data confirming the power of consumers, the debate is now shifting to the next stage of the recovery,” note the Bank of America economists. “Will this just turn out to be a sugar high with a painful hangover, or will it initiate a positive feedback loop leading to a sustainable recovery? We expect the latter, but it depends on a positive response from Corporate America. . “