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Retail sales fall 0.5% in February, biggest drop since 2018

Associated Press


Sales fell in Febuary, before COVID-19 closed stores

Retail sales fell 0.5 percent in February, the largest drop in more than a year, indicating that the consumer sector was slowing even before the coronavirus struck with force in the United States. Economists said they were looking for even weaker numbers in coming months. The Commerce Department reported Tuesday that the February drop in sales was the biggest since a 2 percent decline in December 2018. Sales had been up 0.6 percent in January. In a likely sign of things to come, online sales showed a solid gain of 0.7 percent in February. Economists are forecasting even bigger demand in this area as Americans heed warnings to limit activities outside the home to try to halt the spread of the virus. While discounters and grocers like Walmart, Target, and Costco have seen long lines of customers wanting to stockpile groceries, many mall-based clothing stores have closed. — ASSOCIATED PRESS


Job openings rose in January

US job openings rebounded in January, adding to signs that the labor market remained solid at the start of this year before the coronavirus began to weigh heavily on the economy. The number of available positions rose to 6.96 million from an upwardly revised 6.55 million in December, according to the Labor Department’s Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey, or JOLTS, released Tuesday. That compares with a median forecast for a modest drop to 6.4 million. Job openings increased by 65,000 in finance and insurance and by 8,000 for mining and logging. — BLOOMBERG NEWS



Iconic Laura Ashley falls victim to the pandemic

With hopes of a rescue fading in a pandemic, the London fashion and furniture retailer Laura Ashley said Tuesday that it is preparing for insolvency. The clothing and furnishings retailer, best known for its floral and paisley designs, intends to appoint administrators, a UK procedure similar to Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, according to a statement on Tuesday. While sales had improved recently, the coronavirus outbreak “had an immediate and significant impact on trading and ongoing developments indicate that this will be a sustained national situation.” Founded in 1953 by engineer Bernard Ashley and his wife Laura, the company gained popularity for its designs and quintessentially English appeal. Today it has more than 150 UK stores. The London-listed company is controlled by the Malaysian group MUI Asia Ltd. — ASSOCIATED PRESS



Philippine stock exchange first one to close

The Philippine stock exchange chief said he plans to reopen the $188 billion market on Thursday, seeking a quick resumption of trading after the country became the first to shut financial markets in response to the widening coronavirus pandemic. The move to halt trading came amid speculation that other countries may take similar measures as stocks around the world plunge on fears of a global recession. While Sri Lanka joined the Philippines in shutting, markets including the New York Stock Exchange have issued statements saying they plan to stay open. — BLOOMBERG NEWS


Steel bars, not gold, a safe haven for Chinese investors

Investors in China have found an unlikely new hiding place from the chaos engulfing financial markets. The price of steel reinforcement bar, the somewhat unglamorous but ubiquitous commodity used to strengthen concrete, has risen almost 5 percent over the past month in Shanghai. Over the same period, gold — the traditional haven amid turmoil — has dropped more than 5 percent as investors sell to cover losses in other markets. — BLOOMBERG NEWS


Everyone, including politicians and celebrities, must follow Facebook rules now

Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg said that as the social network gets more aggressive in policing misinformation about the coronavirus, even politicians, celebrities, and those posting in private groups aren’t exempt from the rules. Earlier this month, the company said it would remove false content and conspiracy theories about COVID-19 that health authorities flagged as harmful. On Monday, Sandberg said Facebook — which has a policy of not fact-checking political ads — would apply the rules even to the platform’s most powerful voices. ‘‘We are taking down any harmful misinformation on the coronavirus,’’ she said in an interview on Bloomberg Television. So far, Facebook hasn’t reported any major takedowns, even as some politicians downplay the potential severity of the virus, and some celebrities spread conspiracy theories about its origins. — BLOOMBERG NEWS



Working from home makes Zoom founder a richer man

The continuing rout in global stocks obliterated about $4 trillion of market value Monday, but one billionaire is managing to avoid the onslaught as social distancing becomes the norm. Eric Yuan, the founder of Zoom Video Communications, added $20 million to his net worth Monday while the S&P 500 plunged 12 percent. Shares of the video-conferencing company climbed 0.4 percent, boosting its year-to-date gain to 58 percent. — BLOOMBERG NEWS


Elon Musk intends to keep going to the office

Tesla’s Elon Musk suggested the electric-car maker’s San Francisco Bay Area operations will remain open to those who want to report for work and told employees he will keep going in despite the spread of the coronavirus. ‘‘I’d like to be super clear that if you feel the slightest bit ill or even uncomfortable, please do not feel obligated to come to work,’’ the chief executive officer wrote to staff in an email seen by Bloomberg News. ‘‘I will personally be at work, but that’s just me.’ A spokesman for Alameda County told the Los Angeles Times that the factory has been deemed an essential business and is allowed to remain in operation despite Bay Area orders for people to stay home to limit the spread of COVID-19. — BLOOMBERG NEWS



AMC closes all of its theaters

US movie theaters have closed nationwide due to the coronavirus pandemic, turning dark nearly all of the country’s 40,000-plus screens in an unprecedented shutdown. The largest chains had tried to remain open even as Hollywood postponed its upcoming release plans and guidelines for social distancing steadily diminished the recommended size of crowds. But after President Trump on Monday urged against gatherings of more than 10 people, AMC Theaters, the nation’s largest chain, said Tuesday its theaters would close altogether. AMC said the latest guidelines made movie theater operations “essentially impossible.” It said it would close all locations in the United States for at least six to 12 weeks. Regal, the second largest chain, said Monday that its theaters would close until further notice. — ASSOCIATED PRESS


Winklevoss twins launch marketplace for ‘nifties’

Crypto entrepreneurs Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss are launching a marketplace for nifties, the tradable digital art that can sell for thousands of dollars. Nifty Gateway, a startup that the Winklevoss’s Gemini Trust Co. bought last year, is debuting a website Tuesday where consumers will be able to buy and sell digital collectibles from artists including Michael Kagan and Lyle Owerko. Kagan, known for his space exploration-themed work, has collaborated with singer Pharrell Williams on T-shirt designs and recently sold a work through Christie’s for $40,000. Works of photographer Owerko have graced the cover of Time magazine and been collected by the likes of Beyonce. Niftygateway.com will also sell a collection of digital art from MMA fighter Cris Cyborg. — BLOOMBERG NEWS