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

FILE PHOTO: A woman walks with children past a sales sign on display outside a retail store in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, July 21, 2017. REUTERS/Chris Wattie

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canadian retail sales plunged a record 10% in March as officials shuttered many non-essential businesses to slow the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, Statistics Canada said on Friday, and it said April data could post an even sharper decline.

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

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

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

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

About 40% of retailers closed their stores in March as officials urged people to stay at home, Statscan said, 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 jumped 40.4%.

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

Meanwhile, clothing stores (-51.3%), furniture and home furnishing (-24.5%) and sporting goods, hobby book and music stores (-23.8%) all reported the largest monthly declines on record.

Reporting by Kelsey Johnson; Editing by Dale Smith and David Gregorio