B.C. retail spending continues to rise after December setback

Retail spending rebound

B.C. retail spending rebounded 4.4% in January after a December dip to $8.36 billion, marking its eighth increase in nine months.

Year-over-year sales rose to 15%. In contrast, national sales fell 1.1% from December and rose only 1.3% from a year ago. More stringent physical distancing restrictions in late 2020 directly affected retail activity in several provinces.

B.C. consumer spending picked up speed across store segments.

Sales at motor vehicle and parts dealers rose nearly 5% from December and 30% year-over-year, reflecting demand for private transportation amid the pandemic, low interest rates and high replacement demand.

Meanwhile, sales at electronics and appliance stores (up 43.9% year-over-year) and building material and gardening stores (up 50%) reflects the spillover from strong housing market conditions and renovation spending.

Higher gasoline prices lifted sales at gas stations.

Clothing retailers also saw monthly sales improve, but year-over-year sales activity remained 15% lower as work-from-home, and fewer social options curtailed demand.

The strong upward sales momentum bodes well for 2021 as the economy continues to recover.

Further improvement is expected for clothing retailers as more offices reopen and the pandemic wanes, while a hot housing market will keep demand for ancillary products elevated. That said, expect a rotation in demand and spending back towards retail services such as events and restaurants, while more dollars will leak out of the domestic economy as travel picks up.

B.C.’s housing market remained white hot in February. Multiple Listing Service sales rose 7.2% from January to a seasonally adjusted 12,930 units, marking a record high pace of activity.

Unadjusted February sales were the highest on record at 10,962 units, surging nearly 90% year-over-year and exceeding the 10-year same-month average by 77%.

Robust sales continued across the province, highlighted by strong sales gains in Fraser Valley markets, which rose nearly 15%, and the Interior markets of the Okanagan and surrounding areas (up 13%).

Moreover, sales more than doubled year-ago levels on Vancouver Island, excluding Victoria. •

Bryan Yu is chief economist at Central 1 Credit Union.

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