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Wholesale trade, February 2021

Released: 2021-04-16

Wholesale sales — Canada

$68.8 billion

February 2021

-0.7% decrease

(monthly change)

Wholesale sales — N.L.

$360.3 million

February 2021

1.8% increase

(monthly change)

Wholesale sales — P.E.I.

$102.0 million

February 2021

-8.8% decrease

(monthly change)

Wholesale sales — N.S.

$1,074.8 million

February 2021

4.6% increase

(monthly change)

Wholesale sales — N.B.

$663.3 million

February 2021

-0.4% decrease

(monthly change)

Wholesale sales — Que.

$12,938.6 million

February 2021

-0.8% decrease

(monthly change)

Wholesale sales — Ont.

$35,581.9 million

February 2021

-0.5% decrease

(monthly change)

Wholesale sales — Man.

$1,589.4 million

February 2021

-2.4% decrease

(monthly change)

Wholesale sales — Sask.

$2,549.9 million

February 2021

4.0% increase

(monthly change)

Wholesale sales — Alta.

$6,678.9 million

February 2021

-2.3% decrease

(monthly change)

Wholesale sales — B.C.

$7,179.5 million

February 2021

-1.8% decrease

(monthly change)

Wholesale sales — Y.T.

$15.0 million

February 2021

-1.8% decrease

(monthly change)

Wholesale sales — N.W.T.

$15.0 million

February 2021

-28.0% decrease

(monthly change)

Wholesale sales — Nvt.

$14.1 million

February 2021

-19.7% decrease

(monthly change)

Wholesale sales fall for second time in three months

Sales of wholesale products fell 0.7% in February to $68.8 billion, the second decline in three months. Despite the drop, sales in February were the second highest on record for the sector. Sales were lower in four of the seven subsectors, led by building material and supplies, and motor vehicle and motor vehicle parts and accessories.

Wholesale trade volumes fell 1.2% in February.

Chart 1  Chart 1: Wholesale sales decline in February
Wholesale sales decline in February

Sales down in four subsectors

For the second time in three months, most subsectors reported lower sales. The largest decline came in the building material and supplies subsector, which fell 6.1% to $10.8 billion. This was the second drop in 10 months for the subsector, as prices for lumber, in particular, have risen sharply over the past year. However, housing starts in Canada fell for the third consecutive month in February. In the United States, housing starts hit a six-month low in February, leading to a decline in exports of lumber products.

Sales of motor vehicles and motor vehicle parts and accessories declined 2.5% in February to $10.6 billion. Motor vehicle manufacturers across North America are dealing with an acute shortage of computer chips used to power computer systems in a wide range of vehicles. The strain on the electronic supply chain as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and severe winter weather in the southern United States forced many computer chip manufacturers to scale back or shut down production. As a result, motor vehicle makers have had to either close or reduce shifts at assembly plants because of a lack of parts.

Wholesale sales were also lower in the food, beverage and tobacco subsector (-0.9%), and the machinery, equipment and supplies subsector (-0.4%).

One year of the COVID-19 pandemic

The makeup of the wholesale sector has undergone some distinctive changes in the year since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The clearest of those is the change in the nature of the durable goods being sold by Canadian wholesalers. Sales of motor vehicles and motor vehicle parts and accessories were 9.7% lower in February 2021 than the proportion recorded in February 2020. Conversely, sales of building materials and supplies increased 19.1%, and sales of machinery, equipment and supply were up 16.1%.

Building material and supplies subsector declines across Canada

Sales declined in seven provinces, and all three territories in February, accounting for 94.2% of total wholesale sales. Ontario and Alberta posted the largest decreases in monthly sales.

While sales in Ontario declined 0.5% to $35.6 billion, four subsectors recorded large changes that mostly offset each other. Following growth of 9.7% in January, the building material and supplies subsector fell by 7.0% to $4.4 billion—the largest drop since April 2020. The lumber, millwork, hardware and other building supplies industry accounted for 85% of that decline. The motor vehicle and motor vehicle parts and accessories subsector declined for the fourth consecutive month, down 4.3% to $7.0 billion—the largest drop since April 2020. Of note, excluding the drop in 2020 caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, this was also the lowest sales level since October 2015. Increases in sales in the machinery, equipment and supplies subsector (+2.7% to $8.3 billion) and miscellaneous subsector (+5.0% to $4.4 billion) largely moderated the province's monthly total movement.

Sales in Alberta declined by 2.3% to $6.7 billion in February, following an increase of 3.7% in January. This drop was largely attributable to a 9.7% decrease in the machinery, equipment and supplies subsector to $1.9 billion. The building material and supplies subsector recorded a drop of 5.9% to $1.1 billion, while the remaining five subsectors saw increased sales in February that offset less than half of the decline in the other two subsectors.

As many provinces continued to experience fluctuations that followed the resurgence of the COVID-19 pandemic and shutdowns, Atlantic Canada continued to fare well by comparison. Nova Scotia wholesale trade sales increased by 4.6% to $1.1 billion in February, marking the fifth consecutive month of growth. Since hitting a pandemic low in April 2020, Nova Scotia sales have increased in 9 of the past 10 months. Only one subsector recorded lower sales in Nova Scotia in February—building material and supplies, which had decreased sales in all provinces and territories.

Growth in inventories continues

The value of wholesale inventories increased by 1.1% in February to $92.2 billion. This was the third consecutive monthly increase, and the largest month-over-month increase since June 2019. Five of the seven wholesale subsectors reported increased inventories.

The value of wholesale inventories in the machinery, equipment and supplies subsector increased by 2.4% to $26.6 billion. The rise reflected higher inventories in the construction, forestry, mining, and industrial machinery, equipment and supplies industry, up 2.3%, and the other machinery, equipment and supplies industry, up 4.1%.

Inventories in the personal and household goods subsector rose 1.9% to $16.4 billion. More than four-fifths of the increase stemmed from a 13.7% gain in personal goods, an industry that represented 13.0% of the value of inventories in the subsector.

Motor vehicle and motor vehicle parts and accessories inventories decreased by 1.7% to $11.6 billion, with all of the decrease attributable to motor vehicle wholesalers. This change reflected the effect of the semi-conductor shortage that also contributed to lower manufacturing sales in the automotive assembly and automotive parts industries.

The inventory-to-sales ratio was 1.34 at the end of February, up from 1.32 in January. The inventory-to-sales ratio is a measure of the time (in months) required to exhaust inventories if sales were to remain at their current level.

  Note to readers

All data in this release are seasonally adjusted and expressed in current dollars, unless otherwise noted.

Seasonally adjusted data are data that have been modified to eliminate the effect of seasonal and calendar influences to allow for more meaningful comparisons of economic conditions from period to period. For more information on seasonal adjustment, see Seasonally adjusted data – Frequently asked questions.

Trend-cycle estimates are included in selected charts as a complement to the seasonally adjusted series. These data represent a smoothed version of the Seasonally adjusted time series and provide information on longer-term movements including changes in direction underlying the series. For information on trend-cycle data, see Trend-cycle estimates – Frequently asked questions.

Both seasonally adjusted data and trend-cycle estimates are subject to revision as additional observations become available. These revisions could be large and could even lead to a reversal of movement, especially for reference months near the end of the series or during periods of economic disruptions.

Total wholesale sales expressed in volume are calculated by deflating current dollar values using relevant price indexes. The wholesale sales series in chained (2012) dollars is a chained Fisher volume index, with 2012 as the reference year. For more information, see Deflation of wholesale sales.

The Monthly Wholesale Trade Survey covers all industries within the wholesale trade sector, as defined by the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS), with the exception of oilseed and grain merchant wholesalers (NAICS 41112), petroleum and petroleum products merchant wholesalers (NAICS 412) and business-to-business electronic markets, and agents and brokers (NAICS 419).

Real-time data tables

Real-time data tables 20-10-0019-01, 20-10-0020-01 and 20-10-0005-01 will be updated soon.

Next release

Wholesale trade data for March will be released on May 14.


The product "Monthly Wholesale Trade Survey: Interactive Tool" (Catalogue number71-607-X) is now available online. This product is based on the data published in the tables of the Monthly Wholesale Trade Survey: 20-10-0074-01, 20-10-0076-01 and 20-10-0003-01.

Contact information

For more information, contact us (toll-free 1-800-263-1136; 514-283-8300; For analytical information, or to enquire about the concepts, methods or data quality of this release, contact Thomas Baynes (343-573-2202;, Mining, Manufacturing and Wholesale Trade Division.

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