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Retail sales pop in March along with freight demand

Posted - April 19, 2021

March sees 9.8% sequential jump in sales, Census Bureau reports

Retail sales, including food services, increased 9.8% sequentially in March, according to Thursday Census Bureau data. The pop in sales highlights the impacts of widespread vaccinations and federal stimulus payments to consumers.

On a year-over-year comparison, sales were up 27.7% for the month and 14.3% for the first quarter. The comparison to 2020 is clouded by a sharp rise in pantry stocking in the first few weeks of the pandemic’s onset, followed by a sharp falloff as shutdowns spread.

“American households are clearly feeling the full effect of additional fiscal stimulus, gains in the job market and the reopening of the economy,” said Matthew Shay, National Retail Federation president and CEO. “Although there have been some recent issues related to vaccines, consumer confidence remains high and an optimistic outlook for the future continues to grow.”

The retail-only category was up 16.4% year-over-year for the first quarter.

Restaurant and bar sales moved 13.4% higher from February, a month that had many consumers home during a nearly two-week stretch of severe weather in most parts of the country.

“February’s severe winter weather kept many consumers at home, causing retail sales to fall across many categories. But March’s spring weather brought extra bright spots with further vaccine rollout and more stimulus checks hitting bank accounts, leading to a major surge in sales across all retail sales categories,” stated Naveen Jaggi, president of retail advisory services at JLL (NYSE: JLL), one of the world’s largest landlords, in a statement to FreightWaves.

The snapback in demand from the weather events was seen in FreightWaves’ Outbound Tender Volume Index. By the third week of February, carriers began digging out from the freight backlogs that accumulated during the storms. By month’s end, volumes had surged to levels seen during the 2020 peak season.


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