WASHINGTON-Helped by a positive outlook for consumers, U.S. retail sales rose to $421.4 billion in February, 1.1 percent higher than in January and 4.6 percent ahead of February 2012, according to the monthly retail-sales report from the U.S. Census Bureau.
Retailers of home furnishings lagged somewhat behind other channels last month. Sales at furniture and home furnishings stores slipped 1.6 percent from January, although they increased 1.6 percent from February of last year. General merchandise stores posted a 0.5 percent sales gain month to month along with a 1.6 percent decline year to year, while department stores (excluding leased departments) registered drops of 1 percent from January and 3.8 percent from February 2012.
Kathy Bostjancic, director of macroeconomic analysis for The Conference Board, described consumer spending in February as “relatively robust.” Bostjancic cited strength in growth of jobs, incomes and consumer sentiment, and recovery in households’ net worth thanks to a stronger equity market and gains in home prices.
In its statement on the sales report, the National Retail Federation said consumers in February showed that they had adjusted their spending in light of the increase in payroll taxes and higher prices for gasoline. “It may be too early to measure the impact of the payroll tax hike and higher gasoline prices on consumer spending,” said Jack Kleinhenz, NRF’s chief economist. “However, (February’s result) portends a good, but not great, first quarter for retailers as consumers continue to breathe life into the economy.”