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May 14, 2021 10:45 AM, EDT

Retail Sales Flat in April as Stimulus Spending Wanes

shopping in store Customers shop for boots at M.L. Leddy's in Fort Worth, Texas. (Kathy Tran/Bloomberg)

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NEW YORK — Retail sales in the U.S. were flat in April, after soaring in March, when many Americans received $1,400 stimulus checks that boosted spending.

The report May 14 from the U.S. Commerce Department was worse than the 0.8% growth Wall Street analysts had expected. Americans started receiving a third round of stimulus checks in March, helping retail sales soar 10.7% that month.

The May 14 report comes amid other signs the economy is improving as vaccinations accelerate and business restrictions are relaxed. The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits fell last week to 473,000, a new pandemic low. And consumer confidence hit its highest level last month since the pandemic began.

On May 13, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said vaccinated Americans don’t need to wear a mask or social distance outdoors and in most indoor settings, which may get more people to travel, eat out or shop.

Consumer spending, which makes up two-thirds of all economic activity in the U.S., is closely monitored by economists to gauge the nation’s economic health. The new report covers a third of all consumer spending, but doesn’t include services,such as hotel stays or haircuts.

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