What happened

Wednesday opened bleak and foreboding for investors in the retail and consumer goods industries.

In the first hour of trading alone, we already see shares of motorcycle maker Harley-Davidson (NYSE:HOG), toy manufacturer Mattel (NASDAQ:MAT), and sportswear specialist Under Armour (NYSE:UA) (NYSE:UAA) down 5.9%, 6.1%, and 5.9%, respectively.

Why?

Candlestick graph with a dark background

Image source: Getty Images.

So what

Let me first set your mind at ease: There is no news specific to any of these three companies that is dragging any of these stocks down. Although earnings season has begun, none of the three has yet reported disappointing numbers for the first, coronavirus-plagued quarter of the year. Nor have any analysts downgraded them or cut price targets in anticipation of such bad news.

And yet, bad news still may be in the forecast. This morning, the U.S. Commerce Department issued its update on March retail sales in the U.S., announcing a seasonally adjusted 8.7% plunge in sales -- "the biggest month-on-month decline in retail spending since the Commerce Department started the data set in 1992," says The Wall Street Journal.  

Year over year, retail sales in March were down 6.2%.

Now what

What does this mean for shares of Harley, Mattel, and Under Armour in particular? Well, the Commerce report noted that motor vehicle sales declined 25.6% month over month, which bodes poorly for Harley. The news could be even worse for Under Armour: Clothing store sales plunged 50.5%.

As for Mattel, the Commerce Department's report did not address sales trends in toy retailers in particular. (After Toys R Us' bankruptcy, what's there to measure, anyway?) It's actually even possible that Mattel will turn out to have had a better quarter than the motor vehicle and clothing sectors did, if at-wit's-end parents shopped for toys to entertain their tots during the quarantine.  

We should find out the answer to that one soon, with Mattel due to report its quarterly earnings on April 23. (Harley should report five days later, followed by Under Armour on May 1.)  

However those reports ultimately turn out, though, for today at least, investors seem to be in a "shoot first and ask questions later" frame of mind -- and Harley-Davidson, Mattel, and Under Armour stocks are all going down because of it.