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Economic Watch: Retail Sales Improve Following Two Monthly Drops

March 13, 2014

By Evan Lockridge

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U.S. retail sales in February rebounded after declines the previous two months, according to new U.S. Commerce Department figures.

The 0.3% increase follows a downwardly revised 0.6% decline in January while the December drop was revised down to 0.3%.

Sales during the month increased in nine of the 13 categories measured by the department, showing they gains were broad-based. Excluding auto sales, retail sales increased 0.3% in February and is up 1.3% over the past 12 months.

Furniture sales rose 0.4% in February after three consecutive months of declines, building materials sales increased 0.3%, and health and personal care purchases increased 1.2%, a five-month high. Clothing sales rose 0.4% after a 1.8% decline in January. Year-over year, clothing sales are up 2.4%.

Sporting goods sales rose 2.5% in February, the largest monthly increase since January 2013. Electronic purchases, on the other hand, fell 0.2% in February after a 2.6% rise the month prior while food and beverage sales declined 0.2% after two consecutive months of decline.

“Certainly a welcomed reprieve,” is how Sterne Agee Chief Economist Lindsey Piegza described the report. “Going forward it is too early to conclude a continued, sizable rebound in spending because of pent-up demand during months of winter storms.”

“Sure consumers have been somewhat constrained, nobody likes shopping during an ice storm, but consumers were spending elsewhere particularly on a heightened energy bill with both prices and usage on the rise,” she said. “Also, keep in mind that the consumer has been losing momentum for some time now against the backdrop of weak job creation and minimal income growth.”

Piegza noted annual retail sales growth is down from near 5% at the start of 2013 to just 1.5% now.

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