Business

Retail sales up 0.3% in February after spell of frigid, stormy weather

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Retail sales rose 0.3% to $427.2 billion in February from the previous month, marking the first increase in the gauge since November, according to the Commerce Department.

The government revised down January sales, showing a 0.6% slide from December.

But February’s numbers seemed to suggest that the sales dip was a seasonal phenomenon, reflective of an unusually cold and stormy winter. Sales last month rose 1.5% compared to the same month in 2013.

Retail sales are considered to be a key indicator of economic health, as consumer spending accounts for more than two-thirds of the economy.

Excluding the more volatile effects of motor vehicles and parts sales, retail sales rose 0.3% from January and 1.3% from a year earlier.

In anticipation of spring, the season for home improvement projects, month-to-month sales of building materials and garden supplies rose 0.3% while climbing 3.2% from 2013.

The clothing and accessories category, which had lagged behind during the holiday season due in part to lack of innovation, enjoyed a 0.4% month-to-month boost in sales. The measure rose 2.6% from a year earlier.

Consumers spent 0.1% more at gas stations compared to January, but seemed to catch a break over the long term. Sales plunged 4.8% from the same period in 2013, reflecting a downward trend in fuel prices.

A gallon of gasoline currently costs an average of $3.50, compared to nearly $3.71 a year ago, according to the AAA Daily Fuel Gauge Report.

The government said that sales at health and personal care retailers surged 5.5% year over year. But the non-store segment, which includes online sales, proved to be the top performer with sales booming 6.3% from February 2013.

Electronics and appliance stores suffered, slumping 0.2% from January and 2.4% from a year earlier. Shoppers spent 5.2% less year over year at sporting goods, hobby, books and music vendors and cut purchases by 4.8% at department stores.

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