Cool weather has chilling effect on February retail sales

Retail industry sales for February (which exclude automobiles, gas stations, and restaurants) rose a solid 7.2 percent over last year but fell 0.4 percent seasonally adjusted over January, according to the National Retail Federation. In fact, January sales were so strong that they were revised upward to 8.4 percent above the previous year and 2.8 percent seasonally adjusted from December.

“Given the unexpected strength in sales for January, it is not a surprise to see some month-to-month weakness in sales,” said NRF chief economist Rosalind Wells. “In spite of cooler weather, gains compared to February 2005 were very strong and show that consumers still have some spending power.”

February retail sales released by the U.S. Commerce Department show that total retail sales (which include non-general merchandise categories such as autos, gasoline stations and restaurants) declined 1.3 percent seasonally adjusted from January and increased 6.5 percent unadjusted year-over-year. The decline is attributed to a slowdown in the auto sector and the strength of January sales, buoyed by unseasonably warmer weather. 

The cooler weather put a chill on apparel sales in February. Sales at clothing and clothing accessory stores (which include jewelry stores, a popular Valentine’s Day destination) were up only 0.9 percent unadjusted over last year.

No category performed better than building material and garden equipment and supplies dealers. Sales in this category increased a remarkable 20.6 percent unadjusted year-over-year. Furniture and home furnishings stores also saw growth, with sales rising 6.9 percent unadjusted over last February. Health and personal care stores continue to outperform as consumers begin to focus on necessity purchases. Sales in this category increased 7.1 percent unadjusted from the prior year.