As the Omicron variant began to spread, U.S. consumers cut spending at a range of retail outlets during the December holiday shopping season, government data showed Friday.
Retail sales fell 1.9% in the final month of the year, the Commerce Department said, as analysts expected them to remain flat for the month. And November’s slight sales growth has been revised even lower.
The slump in sales came as the US economy grappled with high inflation that drove up prices for a range of products, and infections caused by the Omicron variant of Covid-19 began to rise, creating a new challenge for businesses.
“Omicron is causing significant economic damage,” Moody’s Analytics’ Mark Zandi said on Twitter. “Based on credit card data, holiday sales took their toll throughout the first week of the month. Then the Omicron infections appeared and sales quickly plummeted.
A wide range of retail outlets saw sales fall last month, including furniture and home furnishings stores, where they fell 5.5%, and non-store retailers such as e-commerce, where sales fell 8.7%.
With their inventories squeezed by the shortage of semiconductors, motor vehicle and auto parts dealers posted a 0.4% decline, while sporting and leisure goods stores posted a 4% drop. 3%.
Despite a pessimistic end to the year, sales rose 19.3% in 2021 compared to the previous year, when the American economy was still battling Covid-19 without the help of vaccines.
Businesses that saw growth last month include building supply and garden equipment dealers, where sales rose 0.9%, health and personal care stores, where they rose by 0.5%, and miscellaneous retailers, where they increased by 1.8%.
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