Strong auto sales prop retail numbers

Gary Evans, Don Hogsett, March 15, 2004

Lifted by unexpectedly strong car sales, U.S. retail sales advanced by 0.6 percent in February from month-before levels to a seasonally adjusted $327.2 billion.

But were it not for the big boost from auto sales, retail sales were virtually flat for the month as consumers fretted about the job market and decided to bank their tax-refund checks instead of spending them.

The sales picture was broadly mixed, with as many losers as winners during February. Along with car sales, the biggest gainer was the nation's department stores, where sales shot up by 1.2 percent, apparently lifted by sales of seasonal apparel as weather patterns improved across much of the country. Clothing and accessory stores also got a weather-related boost, advancing by 0.4 percent.

Home-related categories were mixed as well. Sales at electronics and appliance stores picked up by 0.5 percent, but sales at furniture and home furnishings outlets fell by 0.4 percent.

The weather wasn't enough to pull out do-it-your-selfers, and sales at building material and garden supplies retailers were virtually unchanged.

Measured on a year-over-year basis, overall retail sales improved by 7.5 percent. The biggest gainer was building material and garden supplies dealers, whose sales shot up by 14.7 from February 2003.

Retail sales in February (by channel)

Source: U.S. Department of Commerce
Car dealers +2.7%
Department stores +1.2
Electronics & appliance stores +0.5
Clothing & accessories +0.4
Restaurants & bars +0.1
Building material & garden supplies +0.0
Health & personal care stores -1.2%
Sporting goods, hobby, books & music -1.2
Food & beverage stores -0.5
Furniture & home furnishings -0.4
Non-store retailers -0.2
Gas stations -0.1

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