Statistics Canada released retail sales for February 2021. Nationally, sales increased by 4.8% month-over-month and 6.0% year-over-year.
Only 2 of 11 subsectors, health and personal care and food and beverage, saw sales decline in February compared to January 2021. These were relatively slight declines in sectors and both sectors still saw positive year over year results – food and beverage in particular, at 11.9% YoY.
YoY core retail was also up in February, by 3.8% MoM and 9.3% YoY. Clothing and clothing accessories, one of the hardest-hit sectors during the pandemic, saw less closures in February than in January and rose 23.7% MoM accordingly. Some other sectors commonly deemed non-essential also saw increases (e.g. sporting goods, hobby, book, and music stores).
Although these numbers merit some optimism, RCC anticipates that retail sales in March and especially in April will be weaker, especially in sectors and regions harder hit by pandemic measures and changing consumer spending patterns. Indeed, StatCan’s preliminary estimate for March MoM sales is still positive but lower than the February sales increase, at 2.3%. As for year over year category comparisons, it may be just as useful, if not more so, to compare sales releases for March 2021 onward with the equivalent month in 2019 than with 2020 given the economic shock and large declines when the pandemic first hit in March 2020.
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