Economic concerns grow after wholesale sales drop more than expected

OTTAWA – Wholesale sales in Canada fell more than economists expected in March, raising concerns about the strength of the economy at the end of the first quarter.

Statistics Canada said Thursday wholesale sales fell 1.0 per cent to $54.6 billion in March.

Economists had expected a drop of 0.5 per cent, according to Thomson Reuters.

“Wholesale trade is a second industry data point for March GDP, and another one that suggests Canadian output limped into the end of the first quarter,” CIBC economist Nick Exarhos wrote in a note to clients.

The wholesale sales figures followed a report Tuesday that manufacturing sales fell 0.9 per cent to $50.0 billion in March, the second consecutive monthly decline.

Canadian retail sales results for March are scheduled to be reported Friday along with the consumer price index for April. According to Thomson Reuters, economists expect retail sales to drop 0.6 per cent, while the consumer price index is projected to be up 1.7 per cent compared with the same month a year ago.

The economy contracted by 0.1 per cent in February after growth of 0.6 per cent January.

Adding to the worries, economists have reduced their outlooks for growth this year due to the wildfires that have ripped through Fort McMurray, Alta., destroying homes and forcing the shutdown of nearby oilsands operations.

Statistics Canada said Thursday wholesale sales fell in five of the seven subsectors, led by the motor vehicle and parts group and the miscellaneous subsector.

The motor vehicle and parts subsector fell 2.5 per cent to $10.3 billion, its lowest level in four months. The miscellaneous subsector fell 3.2 per cent to $6.7 billion.

Higher sales were recorded in the machinery, equipment and supplies subsector, which gained 0.5 per cent to $11.0 billion.

Wholesale sales fell 0.4 per cent in volume terms.

Lower sales were recorded in six provinces, with Ontario contributing the most to that decline in dollar terms.

Ontario saw wholesale sales fall 1.4 per cent to $28.1 billion, the lowest level in four months. Meanwhile, sales in British Columbia dropped 3.2 per cent to $5.2 billion, their lowest level since January 2015.

Sales in Quebec grew 1.3 per cent to $10.1 billion, offsetting part of a drop in February.