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With January Sales Boom, Economists' Predictions For 2021 Keep Getting Rosier

A strong start to the year in retail sales has observers feeling bullish about the 2021 economy.


Retail sales could grow by more than 8% this year as part of the fastest economic growth in two decades, according to the National Retail Federation's annual report released on Wednesday. The projection is based on the coronavirus vaccine's effectiveness and the anticipation of a more widespread rollout by the middle of the year.

Also contributing to the expected improvement would be another round of stimulus checks sent to most Americans as part of the next coronavirus relief package, which has been gaining momentum in Congress and could pass the House of Representatives as early as Friday, Yahoo Finance reports.

The $1,400 checks that are part of the $1.9 trillion bill supported by President Joe Biden and congressional Democrats are eagerly anticipated by the retail market, considering that the $600 checks sent out in late December last year have been widely credited for the 5.3% increase in retail sales in January that the U.S. Department of Commerce reported, according to The New York Times.

"Though just one month’s data, sales for January validates our thesis: support those in need until widespread immunity occurs," JLL Chief Economist Ryan Severino wrote in his weekly report.

Further underscoring the recovery's dependence on economic stimulus in advance of a full reopening is persistently negative data from the labor market, where December's losses were deeper than projected and January's recovery fell short of predictions, Reuters reports. While new jobless claims fell below 800,000 for the first time in over a month last week, the 730,000 claims were still more than any week during the great financial crisis, NBC News reports.

An outsized portion of the recent sales growth was focused in e-commerce, where sales grew 22% in 2020 and represented over a quarter of holiday sales, the NRF reports. The industry nonprofit projects another 18% to 21% of e-commerce growth in 2021 as nationwide comfort with online shopping has solidified.

Confidence in reopening could allow for more in-store shopping and a desperately needed return to restaurants, but in all, real estate's recovery is expected to lag behind the economy as a whole, according to sources like JLL and KKR.