February Retail Sales Sluggish

Don Hogsett, March 20, 2006

With cold weather sweeping across much of the country, consumers shunned the malls and kept their hands and their wallets in their pockets during February, forcing retail sales down an unexpectedly steep 1.3% from January levels, the Commerce Department reported. It was the steepest drop in six months.

The highly volatile automotive sector, where sales slumped by 4.6%, was particularly hard hit and acted as a drag on overall retail sales. But even excluding cars, retail sales declined by 0.4%.

Two home-related categories were among the month's big decliners. Sales of furniture and home furnishings stores fell by 4.0%, and sales of electronics and appliances declined by 2.0%.

Sales of clothing and accessories declined by 3.3% as consumers put off buying spring apparel. Other notable declines included a 1.9% drop at restaurants and bars, and a 1.4% slide at department stores. The one decline that spelled good news for consumers was a 1.6% drop at gas stations as prices at the pump subsided.

Among the month's success stories, non-store retailers were the big gainer, driving sales up by 3.2%. As consumers got ready to fix up their houses and tend to their gardens, sales in building material and garden supply stores advanced by 1.5% from January levels. And measured against year-before figures, sales in that channel jumped up by an impressive 20.5%.

(by channel)

Source: U.S. Department of Commerce
Non-store retailers 3.2%
Bldg. mat./garden sup. 1.5
Grocery stores 1.0
Health & personal care 0.3
Sporting goods, books 0.1
Car dealers -4.6%
Furn. & home furn. Stores -4.0
Clothing & accessories -3.3
Electronics & appliances -2.0
Gas stations -1.6
Restaurants & bars -1.9
Department stores -1.4

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