Commerce and NRF report mixed February retail sales

February furniture store sales lag broad retail sector

As the economy continued to show signs of improvement, February stood to gain at retail.

Retail sales, excluding motor vehicle and parts, fell 0.1% in February and rose 4.2% from February past year, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce's monthly report, released Wednesday.

The drop was unexpected in part because many Americans' tax withholdings dropped in early February due to a $1.5 trillion tax break signed into law late previous year. And total sales from December 2017 through February saw a 4.3% annual gain compared to the same period a year ago. New home sales also increased by nine percent in 2017 from 2016, according to Census data. Excluding vehicles and fuel, sales rose by 0.3 per cent.

A disappointing retail sales result in February was slightly less bad in light of revisions to January, nonetheless, back-to-back-to-back sales declines reaffirm both the intransigent sluggishness of consumer spending, and hence overall economic growth, and as a result the limited capacity for consumer inflation to accelerate on a sustained basis. For example, many households experienced delays in receiving tax refunds early this year, giving them less money to spend in January and February relative to prior years. Economists expect those cutbacks to fade soon.

Sales at gasoline stations declined 1.2% during February after growing 1.9% in January. There were other factors last month that made this year better for retailers.

Consumer spending, which accounts for two-thirds of US economic activities, slowed down in the first two months of 2018 after a booming quarter at the end of 2017.

Economists estimate the economy is growing at a roughly 2% pace in the first quarter, down slightly from the fourth quarter and below the roughly 3% pace registered in the middle of past year.

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