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NRF: Consumers shopped in February, but retailers worried about looming price hike impacts

Washington - Appropriate inventory levels and promotion activity coupled with an improving economy helped retailers in February, the National Retail Federation noted, as continued consumer spending helped churn a modest increase in retail sales during the typically slow month.

Retail industry sales, which exclude automobiles, gas stations, and restaurants, in February grew 0.6% seasonally adjusted from January and 4.2% unadjusted year over year.

"February retail sales are in sync with evidence of the expanding economy," said Jack Kleinhenz, NRF chief economist. "While February is typically a slow month for retailers, consumers showed their spending power, though it's too soon to tell what type of impact the spike in gasoline prices will have on consumers this spring."

Matthew Shay, NRF president and ceo, added: "The big challenge retailers will face in the coming months, however, will be going head to head with high cotton, food and energy prices."

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, increased 1.0% seasonally adjusted over January and 9.1% unadjusted year-over-year.

"Solid growth in discretionary spending was seen across the board," NRF said.

Sales at building material, garden equipment and supplies dealers, a sector hit hard by the collapsed housing market, rose 0.6% seasonally adjusted from January and 9.6% unadjusted over last year. Clothing and clothing accessory stores sales increased 0.8% seasonally adjusted month-to-month and a strong 4.4% unadjusted year-over-year. Sporting goods, hobby, book and music stores sales increased 1.3% seasonally adjusted month-to-month and 5.2%unadjusted year-over-year. Sales at health and personal care stores slowed from the previous month, decreasing 0.3% adjusted from January, but grew 5.2% unadjusted year-over-year. The opposite is true for electronics and appliance stores whose sales increased 0.9% seasonally adjusted from the previous month but decreased 1.7% unadjusted over last year.

Department stores also showed strength with a gain of 1.0% over January, but a decline of 1.4% unadjusted year over year.



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