Washington - US retail sales in
February posted the smallest gain in six months, indicating a tempering
of the consumer spending that’s been carrying the economy.
Purchases rose 0.1%, matching the Bloomberg survey median estimate, after a 0.6% increase in the prior month that was stronger than previously
reported, Commerce Department figures showed on Wednesday. Just four of the
13 major retail categories saw gains in February sales.
Receipts dropped at electronics and appliances stores, apparel
outlets and car dealers, a sign of more moderate consumption in the
first quarter. While purchases may have been restrained by a temporary
slowdown in individual tax refunds, robust confidence, healthy job
growth and steady incomes may provide some fuel for a recovery in
February was “relatively weak, and one of the reasons is the delay of
tax refunds,” Eugenio Aleman, senior economist at Wells Fargo
Securities in Charlotte, North Carolina, said before the report.
Still, “confidence numbers are through the roof and if employment
continues to grow it’s only going to strengthen the consumer.”
Estimates for retail sales in the Bloomberg survey ranged from a 0.3% decrease to a 0.5% advance. The January reading was
previously reported as a 0.4% rise.
The figures used to calculate gross domestic product, which exclude
categories such as food services, auto dealers, home-improvement stores
and service stations, rose 0.1%. That followed the prior month’s
0.8% increase in the so-called retail control group.
A separate report on Wednesday from the Labor Department showed
inflation is slowly emerging. The consumer-price index rose 0.1%
after a 0.6% jump in January. Compared with a year earlier, the
CPI was up 2.7%, the most since March 2012.
The pickup in price pressures at the start of the year led to the
biggest drop in inflation-adjusted spending since 2009, according to
separate Commerce Department data earlier this month.
Part of the reason for the weaker retail sales figures, which aren’t
adjusted for changes in prices, may be due to a change in the law that
affects tax refunds. The Internal Revenue Service said that some filers
wouldn’t receive refunds until the last week of February.
About $127bn in refunds were processed this year through the
week ended February 24, about 10.5% less than in the same period in
The Commerce Department’s report also showed retail sales excluding automobiles and service stations increased 0.2%.
Industry data earlier this month showed car sales in February were
little changed from a month earlier. Cars and light trucks sold at an
annualized 17.5 million pace, based on Ward’s Automotive data.
Sales at stores that sell electronics and appliances slumped 2.8%, the most since December 2011. Receipts at gasoline stations
fell 0.6%, while sales dropped 0.5% at clothing chains and
0.2% at general merchandise stores.
Internet-based purchases rose, while sales of furniture, personal-care products and building materials also increased.
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