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Retail sales plunged in November, as shoppers stayed home amid rising Covid cases

Restaurants moved outdoors over the summer and the arrival of cold weather is also undercutting spending.
Image: Retail sales
Shoppers leave a Target store after shopping in Niles, Ill., on Nov. 28, 2020.Nam Y. Huh / AP file
/ Source: Reuters

Retail sales fell for a second straight month in November, likely weighed down by raging new Covid-19 infections and decreasing household income, adding to growing signs of a slowdown in the economy's recovery from the pandemic recession.

Retail sales dropped 1.1 percent last month, the Commerce Department said on Wednesday. Data for October was revised down to show sales falling 0.1 percent instead of climbing 0.3 percent as previously reported. October's decrease was the first since April, when stringent measures to control the first wave of coronavirus cases crippled the economy.

Excluding automobiles, gasoline, building materials and food services, retail sales declined 0.5 percent last month. These so-called core retail sales correspond most closely with the consumer spending component of gross domestic product.

Data this month showed the economy, which plunged into recession in February, added the fewest jobs in six months in November. The number of people filing new claims for unemployment benefits jumped to a near three-month high in the first week of December.

The country is struggling with a fresh outbreak of Covid-19 infections, with the death toll from the respiratory illness rising above 300,000 on Monday, according to a Reuters tally of official data. Many state and local governments have imposed new restrictions on businesses, while some consumers are avoiding shopping malls, restaurants and bars.

Restaurants moved outdoors over the summer and the arrival of cold weather is also undercutting spending.

The situation has been compounded by the loss of a weekly unemployment supplement. More than $3 trillion in government coronavirus relief is almost depleted. At least 9 million unemployed and underemployed Americans will lose government-funded benefits on Dec. 26, with Congress struggling to agree on another rescue package.

Federal Reserve officials were due to wrap-up a two-day policy meeting on Wednesday. Policymakers are expected to keep interest rates near zero and deliver a playbook for what might prompt them to pump more money into the economy.