Retail trade before the storm
On the eve of the pandemic, Alberta’s retail sector was still on shaky ground from the provincial recession of 2015-16.
By ATB Economics 21 April 2020 2 min read
We are still a month away from the release of official statistics showing the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on retail trade. In the meantime, retail sales data for February released today provide a sense of where things were at before the pandemic arrived in Alberta.
After posting gains in December and January, seasonally adjusted retail sales in Alberta edged down in February by 0.4 per cent to $6.8 billion. Sales were, however, up by 1.0 per cent compared to the previous February.
At $52.2 billion in February, national retail sales improved by 0.3 per cent compared to January’s total, with year-over-year sales up by 3.0 per cent.
On an unadjusted basis, monthly sales were down in the province in all major subsectors except for motor vehicle and parts dealers, which saw sales rise by 2.0 per cent on the back of a strong month for new car dealers and motorcycle, boat and recreation vehicle dealers.
Monthly sales were down at food and beverage stores by 3.0 per cent. This subsector is expected to see a large spike in sales in March as shoppers stocked up for the pandemic and ate at home more often due to restaurant closures.
Gas stations form the third largest subsector after vehicle dealers and food stores and saw their sales dip by 9.4 per cent in February. This is not unusual as February is a shorter month and sales are typically down compared to January. Gas stations are one of the subsectors expected to experience a sharp decline in sales due to the pandemic.
On the eve of the pandemic, Alberta’s retail sector was still on shaky ground from the provincial recession of 2015-16. Taking inflation into account, annual retail sales in 2019 were down by 2.3 per cent compared to the year before and by 5.1 per cent compared to 2014. Although some subsectors will experience increased sales, the pandemic is going to wreak havoc on Alberta’s already battered retailers.
A note on COVID-19: The COVID-19 pandemic is having a major impact on the economy here in Alberta and around the world. The Owl will report on these impacts when good information is available while continuing to track regularly scheduled releases of economic data and long-term trends. Please go to atb.com for COVID-19-related updates from ATB Financial.