May 6, 2020 / 9:13 AM / a month ago

Euro zone retail sales suffer largest fall on record in March

FILE PHOTO: A general view shows the Mall of Berlin shopping mall, as the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues in Berlin, Germany, April 17, 2020. REUTERS/Christian Mang

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Retail sales in the euro zone suffered their largest decline on record in March as restrictions to stem the spread of the coronavirus were put in place and shoppers reduced their spending on everything except food and online orders.

Sales in the 19 countries sharing the euro zone fell by 11.2% in March from February and by 9.2% year-on-year, EU statistics agency Eurostat said on Wednesday.

The declines were sharper than market expectations of 10.5% and 8.0% respectively, according to a Reuters poll of economists.

The month-on-month decline was the steepest in Eurostat data going back to 1999.

The year-on-year figure, which has not been negative since the end of 2013, was the worst on record in data reaching back to 2000. It was also twice as large a decline as in February 2009, the worst month of the 2008-2009 financial crisis.

The only brighter spots were a sharp 5.0% month-on-month rise in food sales and a 2.6% increase for mail order and internet shopping. Even pharmaceutical and medical sales dropped, by 0.5%.

The sharpest sales declines were for clothing, footwear and textiles and for automotive fuel.

The steepest national fall was in France at minus 17.4% month-on-month. Luxembourg, Austria and Spain were not far behind. There was no March data for Italy or Greece.

Ireland was the only country to register an increase, with sales going up 0.1% from February, although retail figures are often revised.

Reporting by Philip Blenkinsop; editing by Francesco Guarascio

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