Retail shrank slightly in March, but April's figures will be more dramatic

Calendar adjusted data (at constant prices) compiled by Latvia's Central Statistical Bureau (CSB) and released April 29 show that, compared to March 2019, in March 2020 total retail trade turnover reduced by 1.8 % as the first effects of the coronavirus emergency made themselves felt.

Turnover of retail trade in food products grew by 7.1 %. Retail trade in non-food products (except for retail sale of automotive fuel) decreased by 8.3 %, but turnover of retail sale of automotive fuel – by 3.3 %.

As compared to March 2019, the most notable turnover growth was registered in retail trade in pharmaceutical and medical goods (of 26.8 %) and retail sale of electrical household appliances in specialised stores (15.5 %).

The most significant turnover drop was registered in retail sales of clothing, footwear and leather goods (of 45.6 %) as people started to concentrate on essential items.

Total retail trade turnover at current prices remained the same (not taking into account the calendar influence).

Compared to February, the total turnover of retail trade enterprises in March 2020 fell by 5.9 %, according to seasonally adjusted data at constant prices. Turnover of retail trade in food products grew by 2.9 %. Retail trade in non-food products (except for retail sale of automotive fuel) decreased by 14.1 %, but turnover of retail sale of automotive fuel – by 1.5 %.

April's figures, released in a month's time, are very likely to show a much more pronounced influence of the coronavirus crisis on spending patterns. 

Commenting on the data, Citadele bank economist Mārtiņš Āboliņš sounded a note of caution and a note of optimism.

"There is no reason to question the statistical data, but in my opinion, these indicators do not reflect the actual situation in the Latvian economy and they should certainly not be used in planning crisis measures," Āboliņš said.

"March sales indicators cover the whole month of March, but from the bank's payment card turnover data we see that the decline in consumption in Latvia started in the middle of the month and reached its lowest level only in the last week of March," he said.

"Retail sales will be significantly worse in April... However, the good news is that so far there are no signs that the economic downturn in the Baltics will be greater than in our trading partners. Banks in Denmark, Sweden and Finland report a very similar decline in consumption as in Latvia. Meanwhile, the restrictions in the economy have been lower than elsewhere, which gives hope that Latvia will suffer less from this crisis than before," Āboliņš said.

 

 
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