US retail sales likely tumbled in April as virus took hold

The Commerce Department is expected to report Friday that retail purchases plunged 11.4% from March to April

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BALTIMORE — U.S. retail sales likely plummeted last month as the coronavirus paralyzed the economy, kept away millions of shoppers and threatened the future of stores across the country.

The Commerce Department is expected to report Friday that retail purchases plunged 11.4% from March to April, according to economists surveyed by the data provider FactSet. That would be the steepest month-to-month fall since the government began keeping such records in 1992. And it would come on top of an 8.4% drop in March.

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For a retail sector already reeling from the migration of consumers to online shopping and to app-based delivery services, a back-to-back free-fall in spending poses a grave risk. Department stores like Neiman Marcus and J.Crew have filed for bankruptcy protection. Hotels, restaurants and auto dealerships are in danger.

An April analysis by a group of academic economists found that a one-month closure could wipe out 31% of non-grocer retailers. A four-month closure could force 65% to close.

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