Meet the Team
illustration of a hand holding a credit card

Retail sales boom

February 18, 2021

Graph depicting largest monthly increases in control retail sales on record

Source: Census Bureau

The soft patch in retail activity came to an emphatic end last month, as sales soared by 5.3 percent overall and 6.0 percent in the control group. Details were strong across the board, with every major group recording an increase, and were tellingly led by outsized gains in the most discretionary categories. Sales at department stores, electronics stores, furniture stores, and non-store retailers all climbed at double-digit rates in January while the sporting goods and bar/restaurant components moved higher by 8.0 percent and 6.9 percent, respectively. Fiscal stimulus undeniably played some role here, but note that sales growth was not nearly this robust after checks were similarly disbursed in 2001, 2008, and 2009.

Gains of these magnitudes won’t often be repeated, of course, but this report should be taken as a hint of the boom that is likely to ensue as the pandemic continues to fade and business restrictions are lifted. It is important to underscore here that it didn’t take much to fuel last month’s enormous increase; the new COVID infection rate was down only modestly in January (an average of 201,000 new cases per day versus 207,000 in December) and limitations on in-person activity were little changed on balance. The turn on both fronts has gathered steam in February, however, and the trend toward normalization is a safe bet to continue in the months ahead as vaccinations are more broadly distributed. Such a prospective improvement in the backdrop would typically inspire a fair amount of confidence that spending would eventually respond in kind, but that level of conviction should be much, much higher now given that the response is already underway. The consumer is in post-crisis mode even as the crisis itself has yet to play out.

Daily Trivia

What country’s embarrassing request of a then-record $3.9 billion loan from the IMF in 1976 was later found to have been driven in large part by faulty GDP statistics?

Previous Question

What are the four S&P 500 companies named for locations in the U.S. in which they are not actually headquartered?


Alaska Air, Berkshire Hathaway, Freeport-McMoRan, and Mettler Toledo


  • This information is general in nature and is not intended to be tax, legal, accounting or other professional advice. The information provided is based on current laws, which are subject to change at any time, and has not been endorsed by any government agency.

    Neither Nationwide nor its representatives give legal or tax advice. Please have your clients consult with their attorney or tax advisor for answers to their specific tax questions.