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Today the U.S. Census Bureau released preliminary estimates of nationwide retail sales in November 2020 and revised estimates for October 2020. (The data include both brick-and-mortar and Internet sales.)

Notable Decline in Monthly Sales... In November, seasonally adjusted U.S. retail sales declined after six straight months of growth. In particular, seasonally adjusted sales dropped by 1.1 percent from October to November. On one hand, this decline was much smaller than the dramatic drops in sales earlier in the COVID-19 crisis—a 8.2 percent drop in March 2020 and a 14.7 percent drop in April 2020. On the other hand, it was not small by historical standards: it was the fourth-largest monthly decline in the last decade. (The three largest declines happened in March 2020, April 2020, and December 2018, when sales dropped by 2.1 percent.)

…But Monthly Sales Remain Higher Than Last Year. Despite the decline noted above, November marked the sixth straight month in which sales were higher than last year. In particular, sales in November 2020 were 4.1 percent higher than sales in November 2019.

2020’s 11-Month Total Slightly Exceeds 2019’s. Despite the monthly decline noted above, November sales were strong enough to push 2020’s 11-month total slightly above 2019’s. Total retail sales in January through November 2020 were 0.2 percent higher than total retail sales in January through November 2019.


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