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Retail sales were flat in April as stimulus spending wanes

Shoppers wearing protective masks carry bags in the Broadway Plaza Shopping Center in Walnut Creek, California.
Shoppers wearing protective masks carry bags in the Broadway Plaza Shopping Center in Walnut Creek, California.Bloomberg/Photographer: Bloomberg/Bloomber

NEW YORK (AP) — 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 Friday 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.

Friday's 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.

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On Thursday, 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. Friday’s report covers a third of all consumer spending, but doesn’t include services, like hotel stays or haircuts.