Are Retail Reports a Sign of a Slowing Recovery?
As the U.S. Census Bureau reported on Aug. 17, retail sales fell by 1.1 percent during July compared to the revised June retail sales figures. This is in contrast to an increase of 20.6 percent between May and July and a 15.8 percent increase for the year-over-year comparison to 2020 for the month of July alone.
The National Bureau of Statistics of China released retail sales figures for July on a year-over-year basis. The agency reported an increase of 8.5 percent for the month, missing the 11.5 percent growth target that many predicted, and lower than the 12.1 percent growth in June. The decrease was attributed to the resurgence of COVID-19.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as of Aug. 22, 73 percent of adults in America have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccination (62.4 percent or 170.8 million adults are fully vaccinated). However, the distribution is uneven, portending the increase in infections, hospitalizations, and loss of life due to COVID-19, especially the Delta variant that is infecting both the unvaccinated and a low percent of the vaccinated. The Kaiser Family Foundation notes that African Americans and Hispanics who are 18 and older make up a significant portion (41 percent) of individuals who are unvaccinated but contemplating whether or not to get the vaccine.
A recent McKinsey & Company study found that if 195 million Americans age 12 and older got the COVID-19 vaccine, which would bring the vaccinated level to 70 percent, this would increase the chances for a more robust economic recovery. The study observed that a successful, broad-based COVID-19 immunization push for the public would speed the recovery by three to six months. This would bring the economy to 2019 levels and generate an additional $800 billion to $1.1 trillion in economic growth.
According to an Aug. 3 publication from The National Retail Federation, the economy’s continued recovery is contingent upon combating increasing COVID-19 infections as retail buyers are concerned about new variants. Even though the Delta variant hasn’t changed individual and retail buyer habits yet, it is negatively impacting their outlook going forward. While inflation is expected to moderate over the next 12 months, a June 2021 University of Michigan survey found that retail shoppers see inflation rising by 4.8 percent.
The Conference Board Consumer Confidence Index takes a broad measure of the economy and the generally expected course of future commercial events. It documents how retail buyers see the economy going forward, what they are likely to purchase in the future, how they will pursue leisure activities, how they see their cost-of-living impacted, the performance of equities, and how interest rates will perform going forward.
The July 2021 Consumer Confidence Survey reported an index of 129.7, slightly above June’s reading of 128.9. As the Conference Board elaborates on this reading, numbers indicate that consumers are still expecting to purchase durable consumer goods.
With mixed economic data and the rate of people opting to take the COVID-19 vaccine in flux, the more people who become fully vaccinated the more likely a full economic recovery will occur, including in the retail sector.