Retail sales in Puerto Rico for the month of May 2021 totaled $3.347 billion. Compared to the previous month of April, sales increased by $397 million, or 13.5%. Since April and May of 2020 were affected by the COVID lockdown executive orders, year over year comparisons will be made with 2019 in order to provide a more accurate comparison. Compared to May 2019, retail sales increased by $991 million, or 42.1%.
3 of the categories with the largest increases in sales compared to May 2019 are electronic article stores, department stores, and supermarkets. Their sales increased by 357%, 59.2%, and 49% respectively. Only one category had a decrease in sales relative to 2019, gardening and landscaping equipment stores, whose sales fell by 7.8%.
Supermarket and pharmacies, two of the categories that had large increases in sales during the pandemic, have shown no sign of reverting back to 2019 levels. Compared to 2019, their sales for the year are up by 40.1% and 16.6%, respectively. 2 categories which have shown sales lower than 2019 are new and used vehicle sales and gas stations and convenience stores. Their sales are lower by 16.9% and 5.2%, respectively. Since new vehicle sales have increased since 2019, it is safe to assume that this decrease is due to decreased sales of used vehicles. Given the shortage of vehicle parts that is affecting the supply chain, we can expect used vehicles to stay more expensive than usual.
Gas station sales have been affected by high gas prices and COVID restrictions which have affected consumers. We can expect these to increase for June and July, two months which had few COVID restrictions.
There is one sector of retail sales that is down considerably for the year to date compared to 2019. Small business sales are down by $800 million, or 50%, compared to 2019. Medium, non-chain, and large retailers have all see increases in their sales relative to 2019.
Retail sales for the year to date are at a total of $14.715 billion. Compared to 2019, year to date sales are $2 billion, or 16%, higher.
Overall, the large amounts of federal funds that have arrived on the island in various forms such as expanded unemployment insurance benefits, PPP loans and the stimulus checks, have provided an artificial bump to retail sales. This increase can be expected to still affect June, July, and August retail sales. Retail sales in September, when expanded unemployment benefits end, could prove to be a return to 2019 levels.