Irma sends South Florida retail spending down 72 percent

NEW YORK (AP) — Hurricane Irma sent retail spending in the Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach area down more than 72 percent over a three-day period, according to one payment technology company.

First Data Corp., which tracks online and in-store payments on debit and credit cards, said that overall spending, which includes building materials, gas, food and hotels, fell more than 57 percent in the Sept. 8-10 period, compared to a year ago.

First Data’s Rishi Chhabra says the spending patterns were more magnified than with Harvey, which hit the Houston area late last month, because Irma affected more densely populated areas. Still unclear is how much of the downturn retailers may recoup.

As Irma’s path expanded, Planalytics Inc. a weather forecasting firm that works with retailers, raised its forecast late last week for losses to the retail industry to $2.75 billion. That was up from an earlier forecast of $1.45 billion. For Harvey, it continues to expect net losses for retailers of $1 billion.

Sales of building materials in the Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach, Florida, area surged more than 66 percent from Sept. 1 through Sept. 7 compared with the same period a year ago, but plunged 64 percent over the Friday through Sunday period, according to First Data. Sales at gas stations soared 63 percent in the days ahead of Hurricane Irma, then dropped by nearly the same amount over the weekend. Sales at food and beverage stores rose 41 percent in the pre-storm rush, and fell 66 percent over the weekend.

As for Harvey, overall spending was down about 30 percent in the Houston metropolitan area for the Aug. 25 to Aug. 31 period, while total retail spending fell nearly 44 percent. Spending on food and beverage rose more than 14 percent in the days before Harvey hit, but then dropped 9 percent when the storm hit. Sales at gas stations rose 13 percent, and fell 15 percent as shoppers hunkered down. First Data didn’t break out figures for building supplies, but the surge in spending before Harvey hit was much less than what it saw for Irma.

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