The Consumer Economy Is About to Come Down from Its Sugar High

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Regardless of one’s views of the need, adequacy, or effectiveness of the federal response to the pandemic, the relevant consideration of the moment is that government relief for most Americans will be going away soon.

Large retailers mostly reported blowout sales and earnings in 1Q21, and commentators were quick to laud these results and the resilience of consumer spending as a recovery scenario unfolds. Some of these headlines read, “Target Stores ‘Stars of the Show’ in Blowout Quarter,” “Walmart Blows Past Q1 Expectations,” “Amazon Smashes Earnings Expectations Amid 44% Sales Increase,” and “Home Depot in Blockbuster 1Q.” You get the idea. The U.S. retail sector (excluding Amazon) has widely outperformed the broader stock market so far in 2021.

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