Panic Buying Amid Pandemic Spurs Russia’s Retail Sector in 1Q20

Russia’s retail sales rose more than expected in March spurred by panic buying ahead of the lockdown to stem the coronavirus outbreak and as the ruble’s plunge boosted demand for imported goods before shelf prices increased, Reuters reported

Retail sales, the gauge for consumer demand, Russia’s key economic growth driver, rose 5.6% in year-on-year terms in March, above a 2.6% increase predicted in a Reuters poll of economists, the federal statistics service Rosstat said.

Economic data on the state of Russia’s economic health is in focus after the central bank last week predicted an up to 6% contraction in the gross domestic product in 2020, while slashing the key rate by 50 basis points to 5.5%.

The retail turnover was driven by “feverish demand for food and staple goods,” Rosstat said, reporting a 10.2% month-on-month jump in retail sales for March.

People in Russia, as in many other countries, rushed to stock up with food and essential goods, such as toilet paper, amid the rising number of coronavirus cases and fears of a lockdown that, in the end, was imposed in Russia in late March – later than in many other countries.

Retail sales of non-food items, particularly imported goods, rose in March amid “the increase in the exchange rate of foreign currencies,” Rosstat said.

The ruble plunged to four-year lows in March as the price of oil, Russia’s key export, crashed. Such swings in the ruble usually boost demand for durable goods, such as cars, computers, and white goods, before their sellers revise price tags.