Retail sales fall in February

U.S. retail sales took an unexpected dip in February. But in better news, sales were revised upwards for January.

Retail sales were down 0.7% in February seasonally adjusted from January but up 2.7%unadjusted year-over-year as delays and revisions related to the government shutdown continued to make comparisons difficult, the National Retail Federation said. The NRF numbers exclude automobile dealers, gasoline stations and restaurants.

“The weaker-than-expected February retail sales numbers reflect colder weather and increased precipitation that kept shoppers home but were also skewed downward because of the government’s upward revision in January’s results,” stated NRF chief economist Jack Kleinhenz said. “The aftereffects of the erratic stock market, the government shutdown and slower tax refunds this year also likely played a role.”

NRF’s numbers are based on data from the U.S. Census Bureau, which said that overall February sales – including auto dealers, gas stations and restaurants – were down 0.2% seasonally adjusted from January (but up 2.2% unadjusted year-over-year.” Economists polled by Reuters had forecast retail sales rising 0.3% in February.

The release of retail sales data for December, January and February has been delayed as the Bureau works through a backlog caused by the government shutdown earlier this year. Similarly, the Internal Revenue Service has been slow in issuing refund checks, which traditionally help drive spending in the early months of each year.

As of February, the three-month moving average was up 2.2% over the same period a year ago. In revised data for January, overall retail sales rose1.9% monthly and 4.8% year-over-year, according to revised data released today. January had originally been reported as a 1.3% increase over December and up 3.6% year-over-year.

“It is important to look beyond the February figures and focus on the very significant revision to January retail sales, which shows that the consumer has not forsaken the economy as some previously claimed,” said Kleinhenz. “We still expect growth to pick up, fueled by strong fundamentals like job and wage growth that are driving increased consumer spending.”

In February, month-over-month sales at building materials and garden equipment and supplies dealers fell 4.4%, the biggest drop since April 2012, as extremely cold weather hit much of the country.

Here is a listing of other month-over-month retail sales in February:

• Online and other non-store sales were up 0.9:
• Health and personal care stores were up 0.6 percent month-over-month;
• Grocery and beverage stores were down 1.2%;
• General merchandise stores were down 0.3%
• Clothing and clothing accessory stores were down 0.4%;
• Furniture and home furnishings stores were down 0.5%;
• Electronics and appliance stores were down 1.3%; and
• Sporting goods stores were up 0.5%.