Canadian retail sales decline record 10% in March, led by car sales

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Canadian retail sales declined a record 10% in March as authorities shuttered many non-essential businesses to reduce the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, Statistics Canada stated on Friday, and it said April data could post an even significant decline.

The decline, which Statscan called the largest on record, was led by a collapse in auto sales and matched the 10% drop forecast by analysts in a Reuters poll. In volume terms, sales hammered a record 8.2%.

“Data for March show an ugly situation even before the economy was tamped down for a full month,” stated Royce Mendes, a senior economist with CIBC Capital Markets in a note.

Sales excluding autos dropped only 0.4% in March, which was better than the expected 5.0% drop experts had predicted.

Statscan revised February’s gain up slightly to 0.4% from an initial 0.3% and, in a preliminary flash estimate, stated retail sales in April could drop 15.6%.

About 40% of retailers shut down their stores in March as officials urged people to stay at home, Statscan stated, adding the pandemic forced many businesses to open or expand their e-commerce platforms in March. On a year-over-year basis, retail e-commerce increased 40.4%.

Auto and parts dealership sales declined 35.6% on lower demand, while gasoline station sales dropped 19.8%, the largest decline on record, on both lower demand and lower prices as the result of a worldwide supply glut.

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