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Stimulus checks ring up 9.8% sales gain for U.S. retailers in March

The numbers: Sales at U.S. retailers leaped almost 10% in March thanks to $1,400 stimulus checks and an accelerating economy that’s likely to stay in the fast lane through the spring and summer.

Receipts climbed 9.8% last month, the government said Thursday. Economists polled by Dow Jones and The Wall Street Journal had forecast a 6.1% increase.

The snapback in sales was widely expected after Washington approved a massive $1.9 trillion stimulus in early March. Sales won’t keep up the same pace in the months ahead after the stimulus fades, but a rebounding U.S. economy is expected to help retailers stay plenty busy.

Read: Consumers pay higher prices in February, CPI shows, as inflation keeps creeping up

Big picture: The economy is growing rapidly again owing to mass vaccinations of Americans, relaxed government restrictions on business and another major dose of federal stimulus.

As long as coronavirus cases don’t spike again, the U.S. is likely to expand at a quickened pace through the rest of the year.

See: MarketWatch visual on how an unfair pandemic has reshaped work and home

Consumer spending accounts for 70% of U.S. economic activity and retail sales is one-third of that figure.

Market reaction: The Dow Jones Industrial Average
DJIA,
+0.16%

and S&P 500
SPX,
-0.41%

were set to open higher in Thursday trade, helped by strong corporate earnings.

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