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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.
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.