U.S. consumers have pulled back on purchases and limited holiday shopping in recent weeks as the coronavirus pandemic triggered new business restrictions, potentially snapping a six-month stretch of retail sales growth.
Economists surveyed by The Wall Street Journal forecast that retail sales decreased a seasonally adjusted 0.3% in November from a month earlier. The Commerce Department will release the November figures on Wednesday.
That would mark the first month-over-month decline since April in the department’s measure of spending at stores, vehicle dealerships, restaurants and online.
Expected weakness in automotive sales will likely contribute to the decline, along with “the fact that people are starting to stay at home again,” said Joshua Shapiro, chief U.S. economist at consulting firm Maria Fiorini Ramirez Inc. A rise in coronavirus infections is starting to affect sales at businesses such as restaurants, he added.
The U.S. economy continues to recover, but at a slower pace. Hiring growth slowed in November while worker filings for unemployment benefits recently increased. Overall consumer spending, which includes retail and services consumption, has continued to increase, but more slowly than over the summer. Consumer confidence has been mixed, with one survey reflecting a brighter outlook for the economy beyond the pandemic.