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Canadian retail sales plunged a record 10 per cent in March as officials shuttered many non-essential businesses to slow the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, Statistics Canada said on Friday, and it said April data could post an even sharper decline.

The drop, which Statscan called the largest on record, was led by a collapse in car sales and matched the 10-per-cent decline forecast by analysts in a Reuters poll. In volume terms, sales plummeted a record 8.2 per cent.

“Data for March show an ugly situation even before the economy was tamped down for a full month,” Royce Mendes, a senior economist with CIBC World Markets Inc., said in a note.

Sales excluding autos declined only 0.4 per cent in March, which was better than the expected 5-per-cent drop analysts had predicted.

Statscan revised February’s gain up slightly to 0.4 per cent from an initial 0.3 per cent and, in a preliminary flash estimate, said retail sales in April could fall 15.6 per cent.

About 40 per cent of retailers closed their stores in March as officials urged people to stay at home, Statscan said, adding the pandemic forced many businesses to open or expand their e-commerce platforms in March. On a year-over-year basis, retail e-commerce jumped 40.4 per cent.

Auto and parts dealership sales dropped 35.6 per cent on lower demand, while gasoline station sales fell 19.8 per cent, the largest decline on record, on both lower demand and lower prices as the result of a global supply glut.

Meanwhile, clothing stores (negative 51.3 per cent), furniture and home furnishing (negative 24.5 per cent) and sporting goods, hobby book and music stores (negative 23.8 per cent) all reported the largest monthly declines on record.

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