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February retail sales increased 2.7 percent over 2018

“The consumer will continue to provide direction and strength to the U.S. economy in the months ahead.”

NRF Chief Economist Jack Kleinhenz

WASHINGTON – Retail sales were down 0.7 percent in February seasonally adjusted from January but up 2.7 percent unadjusted year-over-year as delays and revisions related to the government shutdown continued to make comparisons difficult, the National Retail Federation said today. The 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,” 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. 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. We still expect growth to pick up, fueled by strong fundamentals like job and wage growth that are driving increased consumer spending. The consumer will continue to provide direction and strength to the U.S. economy in the months ahead.”

As of February, the three-month moving average was up 2.2 percent over the same period a year ago. February’s results build on improvement seen in January, which was up 1.9 percent monthly and 4.8 percent year-over-year, according to revised data released today. January had originally been reported as a 1.3 percent increase over December and up 3.6 percent year-over-year.

NRF’s numbers are based on data from the U.S. Census Bureau, which said today that overall February sales – including auto dealers, gas stations and restaurants – were down 0.2 percent seasonally adjusted from January but up 2.2 percent unadjusted year-over-year. 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.

The results come as NRF is forecasting that retail sales during 2019 will increase between 3.8 percent and 4.4 percent to more than $3.8 trillion. The forecast is subject to revision as more data is released in the coming months.

Specifics from key retail sectors during February include:

  • Online and other non-store sales were up 10.1 percent year-over-year and up 0.9 percent month-over-month seasonally adjusted.
  • Health and personal care stores were up 5.7 percent year-over-year and up 0.6 percent month-over-month seasonally adjusted.
  • Grocery and beverage stores were up 1.9 percent year-over-year but down 1.2 percent month-over-month seasonally adjusted.
  • Building materials and garden supply stores were up 1.5 percent year-over-year but down 4.4 month-over-month seasonally adjusted.
  • General merchandise stores were up 1.1 percent year-over-year but down 0.3 percent month-over-month seasonally adjusted.
  • Clothing and clothing accessory stores were down 0.5 percent year-over-year and down 0.4 percent month-over-month seasonally adjusted.
  • Furniture and home furnishings stores were down 2.7 percent year-over-year and down 0.5 percent month-over-month seasonally adjusted.
  • Electronics and appliance stores were down 3.8 percent year-over-year and down 1.3 percent month-over-month seasonally adjusted.
  • Sporting goods stores were down 8.2 percent year-over-year but up 0.5 percent month-over-month seasonally adjusted.

About NRF

The National Retail Federation, the world’s largest retail trade association, passionately advocates for the people, brands, policies and ideas that help retail thrive. From its headquarters in Washington, D.C., NRF empowers the industry that powers the economy. Retail is the nation’s largest private-sector employer, contributing $2.6 trillion to annual GDP and supporting one in four U.S. jobs — 42 million working Americans. For over a century, NRF has been a voice for every retailer and every retail job, educating, inspiring and communicating the powerful impact retail has on local communities and global economies.