May 21, 2020 / 1:48 PM / 3 days ago

The slow reopen: Retail visits edge up, broader economic measures still unmoved

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. continued its cautious reemergence from a coronavirus-linked shutdown over the past week, with measures of retail foot traffic slowly increasing but broader indexes of economic activity still stalled.

FILE PHOTO: A handful of pedestrians walk through Times Square as streets remain relatively quiet due to the continuing outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in the Manhattan borough of New York U.S., May 5, 2020. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson/File Photo

Data from cellphone location firms Unacast and SafeGraph through last weekend both showed a continued slow rise in visits to retail stores. Data on around 55,000 small businesses from time management firm Homebase showed a few more firms open and more workers on the job.

The latest numbers are in line with both the gradual lifting of coronavirus-related restrictions across the country, and what many analysts expect to be a measured response among households and entrepreneurs until it is clear the virus is controlled.

In some cases, businesses are being allowed to open, but with capacity limits or other regulations to keep the virus in check.

A handful of major retailers have said sales recently have been helped by government emergency relief payments to U.S. households and those who have lost work.

Walmart Inc (WMT.N) executives said on a conference call on Tuesday that stimulus checks have helped deliver a good start to the second quarter, but they did not expect spending to continue at the same pace.

Broader real-time measures of the economy showed little evidence yet of a macroeconomic rebound.

Another 2.4 million people filed for unemployment benefits, though the number dropped from last week.

Consumer and industrial activity measures from Goldman Sachs were unchanged. A New York Fed index tracking growth in gross domestic fell slightly. An Atlanta Fed rolling estimate of current-quarter gross domestic product remained at what’s hoped to be its bottom, showing an annualized drop of more than 40%.

Any good news remained narrowly focused. Unacast data showed foot traffic among home improvement stores recently crept above 2019 levels, and pet stores were attracting more visitors.

Estimated activity moved up faster in the midwest and south - Wyoming and South Dakota saw retail traffic above 2019 levels recently — while coastal states, some still under relatively tight restrictions, remained far below last year.

For more on the real time data referenced here, see:

Unacast here here Safegraph www.safegraph.com/dashboard, NYFed here ATLFed here

Reporting by Howard Schneider; Editing by Bernadette Baum

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