NRF: Retail Sales Beat Expectations

Retail industry sales for February (which exclude automobiles, gas stations, and restaurants) rose 0.6 percent seasonally adjusted from January and decreased 5 percent unadjusted over last year, according to the National Retail Federation.

The figures for the month beat analysts’ expectations, NRF said. Meanwhile, retail industry sales for January were revised up from 0.5 percent growth to 1.4 percent seasonally adjusted month-to-month.

February retail sales released today by the U.S. Commerce Department show total retail sales (which include non-general merchandise categories such as autos, gasoline stations and restaurants) decreased 12.3 percent unadjusted year-over-year. However, according to Nigel Gault, chief U.S. Economist for IHS Global Insight, when you exclude auto sales.

When adjusted on a month-to-month basis, retail sales were nearly flat, according to the commerce department.

“While we are seeing some growth in consumer spending, it remains to be seen whether this trend will continue,” said Rosalind Wells, NRF chief economist. “Given the state of the economy, NRF is still expecting year-over-year sales declines through the first half of the year with a slight turnaround at the end of 2009.” 

Sales at furniture and home furnishing stores grew 0.7 percent seasonally adjusted from January but decreased 14.8 percent unadjusted over last year, NRF said. Electronics and appliance stores sales increased 1.2 percent seasonally adjusted month-to-month but decreased 4.9 percent unadjusted year-over-year. Clothing and clothing accessory stores sales rose 2.8 percent seasonally adjusted from last month but decreased 6.5 percent unadjusted from 2008.

Sales at sporting goods, hobby, book and music stores also increased 0.2 percent seasonally adjusted month-to-month but decreased 4.8 percent unadjusted over last year.

“Real consumer spending appears to have stabilized in the first quarter, after falling at an annual rate of about 4 percent in the second half of 2008,” Gault said. “The sales improvement is helping retailers to bring their inventories under better control. Inventory figures for January published today showed the first decline in the retail inventory-sales ratio since May 2008.”

He added, Overall, it now appears that real consumer spending will be roughly flat in the first quarter, following steep declines in the second half of 2008 that averaged 4 percent. But even though the worst declines appear behind us, it would be premature to conclude that the consumer is on the way back. The consumer is still facing severe headwinds from falling employment and plunging asset values. Just today, the latest unemployment insurance figures showed initial claims rising again and continuing claims at another new high.”