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Economy in Brief

U.S. Retail Sales Disappoint, Falling for Three Straight Months
by Tom Moeller  March 12, 2015

Severe winter weather may have been a factor last month, but retail spending has been under pressure for a while. Overall retail sales including food services & drinking places fell 0.6% (+1.7% y/y) during February following an unrevised 0.8% decline in January. It was the third straight monthly shortfall. A 0.4% increase had been expected in the Action Economics Forecast Survey. Sales excluding autos slipped 0.1% (+0.8% y/y) after a 1.1% decline. It also was the third straight down month. A 0.6% increase had been expected. During the last ten years, there has been a 92% correlation between the y/y change in retail sales and the change in real GDP. Sales in the retail control group exclude autos, gasoline, building materials & food services and align with the estimates in the GDP accounts. It was unchanged last month (+3.7% y/y) after two months of slight decline.

A 2.5% decline in auto sales (+5.4% y/y) pulled overall retail spending down last month as it followed a 0.5% rise. The fall coincides with a 2.6% deterioration in unit vehicle sales. Sales of building materials were off 2.3% (+3.9% y/y) following a 0.7% improvement.

Sales of nonstore retailers posted a 2.2% increase (8.6% y/y) after a 0.3% rise. Purchases at electronics & appliance stores, however, fell 1.2% (+0.9% y/y), the fourth decline in the last five months. Sales at furniture & home furnishings outlets ticked 0.1% lower (+5.8% y/y), the third slight decline in the last four months. Apparel store sales were roughly unchanged (+3.3% y/y), weak for the third consecutive month, and general merchandise store sales declined 1.2% (+0.8% y/y) after a 0.1% uptick. Sporting goods, hobby, book & music store sales increased 2.3% (3.5% y/y) following three months of decline. Food service and drinking place sales fell 0.6% (7.7% y/y) after a 1.2% dip.

In the nondiscretionary sales categories, health & personal care store sales fell 0.7% (+4.8% y/y) after a 0.3% decline. Food & beverage store sales moved 0.3% higher (3.6% y/y) after a 0.2% drop.

The retail sales figures are available in Haver's USECON database. The Action Economics figures are in the AS1REPNA database.

Retail Spending (%) Feb Jan Dec Feb Y/Y 2014 2013 2012
Total Retail Sales & Food Services -0.6 -0.8 -0.9 1.7 4.0 4.2 5.1
  Excluding Autos -0.1 -1.1 -0.8 0.8 3.0 3.0 4.2
  Non-Auto Less Gasoline, Building Supplies & Food Services 0.0 -0.1 -0.2 3.7 3.3 3.3 3.6
Retail Sales -0.6 -0.9 -1.1 1.0 3.8 4.3 5.0
  Motor Vehicle & Parts -2.5 0.5 -1.1 5.4 8.1 9.3 9.1
 Retail Less Autos 0.0 -1.3 -1.2 -0.3 2.6 3.0 4.0
  Gasoline Stations 1.5 -9.8 -7.5 -23.0 -2.8 -0.3 4.2
Food Service & Drinking Places Sales -0.6 -0.2 1.2 7.7 5.9 3.0 5.9
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