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Today the U.S. Census Bureau released preliminary estimates of nationwide retail sales in January 2021 and revised estimates for December 2020. (The data include both brick-and-mortar and Internet sales.)

Very Large Increase in Monthly Sales. Seasonally adjusted U.S. retail sales grew by 5.3 percent from December to January. This increase was very large by historical standards—the fourth-largest monthly increase since data collection began in 1992.

Retail Sales Remain Volatile. Last year, in the early stages of the pandemic, the U.S. experienced changes in retail sales that were far larger than any month-to-month swings ever previously recorded. Although the fluctuations over the last few months have been less extreme than those in the first half of 2020, they have been large nevertheless. For example, January’s unusually strong growth came on the heels of a two-month decline that somewhat resembled a mild recession.


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