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Canadian retail sales down record 26.4% in April on coronavirus shutdowns

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canadian retail sales plummeted 26.4% in April, posting a record decline for a second consecutive month, as the coronavirus pandemic continued to wallop the economy, Statistics Canada data showed on Friday, but sales are expected to rebound in May.

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Officials shut most non-essential businesses across Canada, beginning in mid-March, to slow the spread of the coronavirus and urged people to stay home.

Sales were down in all 11 subsectors for the first time in 27 years, with motor vehicle and parts dealers taking the largest hit in April. Food and beverage stores and gasoline stations also contributed to the decline.

Analysts in a Reuters poll had forecast a 15.1% decline for April, while a Statistics Canada flash estimate released last month predicted a 15.6% decline. The statistical agency revised March’s record decline to 9.9% from an initial 10%.

In a preliminary flash estimate, Statistics Canada said retail sales in May could rise by 19.1%.

“It’s a long road back from these April lows,” said BMO Chief Economist Doug Porter in a note.

All 10 Canadian provinces posted double-digit slumps, with the largest drops occurring in Ontario and Quebec, Canada’s two most populous provinces. Retail sales plunged 32.8% in Ontario, while Quebec posted a 27.8% decline.

“Retailers were devastated by the shutdowns and physical distancing measures employed in April,” said Royce Mendes, senior economist at CIBC Capital Markets.

“It wasn’t all bad news in the report though. Retailers who had an online presence were able to capitalize on some of the shifts in buying patterns,” he said.

Online sales surged to a record high, representing 9.5% of the total retail market, Statscan said, while on a year-over-year basis, retail e-commerce more than doubled.

Additional reporting by Dale Smith and Julie Gordon in Ottawa; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama, Paul Simao and Andrea Ricci

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