Retail sales lose steam after modest gains early in 2019

Ed Strapagiel's latest sales analysis suggests retail growth began to cool off heading into the summer.

After showing moderate gains early in the year, Canadian retail sales growth “lost some steam” heading into the early summer months, according to the most recent Statistics Canada data reviewed by retail analyst Ed Stratagiel.

The three months ending May 2019 saw gains of just 2.5% year-over-year, down from the 2.8% recorded for the period ending in April. Now five months into 2019, overall sales growth is up 2.3% from a year ago. As Strapagiel notes in his most recent monthly analysis, the situation will have to improve if sales growth wants to the match even the modest 2.9% gains experienced over the course of 2018.

But both the 3-month and 12-month trend lines, which the analyst uses as a measure of long-term outlook, have now dipped after having trended upward during the first months of the year.

Ahead of all other major retail sectors, food and drugs performed the strongest for the quarter ending in May, with sales growth of 3.2% year-over-year. This was, nevertheless, the lowest uptick seen over the last eight months, according to Strapagiel. Leading that growth were sales from supermarkets and other grocery stores (up 3.7%), followed by health and personal care stores (up 3.2%). Sales from convenience stores, meanwhile, were down 0.9% for the quarter.

Sales of store merchandise were up only 1.9%, after having seen gains of 2.9% for the period ending in April (compared to the 2.8% increase recorded over the course of 2018). The slump in sales growth can be attributed to softer sales across electronics and appliance stores (down 7.8%), shoe stores (down 3.7%), sporting goods, hobby, book and music stores (down 2.7%), and building material and garden equipment and supplies (down 0.3%). Only miscellaneous store retailers – which include cannabis stores – and furniture and home furnishings recorded significant gains, up 8.2% and 5.1%, respectively.

Meanwhile, automotive and related sector sales “fell like a rock in 2018, made a modest comeback in early 2019, and now appear to be stalling,” according to Strapagiel. Sales were up 2.5% year-over-year, which the analyst describes as “rather modest by historical standards.” Between sales from new car dealers (up 3%) and automotive parts, accessories and tries (up 6.3%), sales from used car dealers emerged as the big winner of the quarter, having jumped 13.7%. Gasoline stations continue to lag behind, with sales dropping 1.1%, but the situation has improved markedly from the 6.4% decline recorded during the first quarter of the year.

Canadian e-commerce sales were up 18.7% for the reporting period ending in May, representing an increase of 0.7% from the previous three-month period. Online sales accounted for 3.1% of all retails sales during the same period.