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NRF Says Core Retail Sales Grew in February Amid Strong Labor Market

Overall retail sales dipped slightly in February, but core spending rose, the National Retail Federation said today.

Matthew Shay
Matthew Shay

“February’s retail sales growth is not surprising given the strong growth we saw last month, continuing to reflect consumers’ ability and willingness to spend thoughtfully on household priorities,” said NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay. “While recent volatility in banking and financial markets is adding to economic uncertainty, the underlying fundamentals in the consumer economy remain on solid footing as jobs and wages are growing and inflation is trending down. Retailers continue to find innovative ways to meet consumers with the right products, offer the best prices to help families stretch their dollars, and deliver great experiences.”

“Sales growth has slowed in recent months, but consumers’ economic health still looks good,” said NRF Chief Economist Jack Kleinhenz said. “February is typically the slowest month of the year, so monthly fluctuations are expected. Sales are higher than last year and that’s due in large part to the strong labor market, which means more income and spending. We are seeing a decent trend for retail sales growth built on the upward revisions to December and January sales. Nonetheless, seasonal adjustment factors the government is applying to the monthly data to account for irregular post-pandemic spending patterns make it difficult to accurately measure the strength of the consumer.”

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The US Census Bureau said that overall retail sales in February were down 0.4% from January but up 5.4% year over year. In January, sales were up 3.2% month over month and up 7.7% year over year.

NRF’s calculation of retail sales—which excludes automobile dealers, gasoline stations and restaurants to focus on core retail—showed February was up 0.5% from January and up 6.5% unadjusted year over year. In January, sales were up 2% month over month and up 6.9% year over year. NRF’s numbers were up 6% unadjusted year over year on a three-month moving average as of February.

February sales were up in all but one retail category on a yearly basis, led by general merchandise stores, online sales and health and personal care stores, and increased in five out of nine categories on a monthly basis. Specifics from key sectors include:

  • General merchandise stores were up 0.5% month over month seasonally adjusted and up 10.7% unadjusted year over year.
  • Online and other non-store sales were up 1.6% month over month seasonally adjusted and up 8.5% unadjusted year over year.
  • Health and personal care stores were up 0.9% month over month seasonally adjusted and up 8% unadjusted year over year.
  • Grocery and beverage stores were up 0.5% month over month seasonally adjusted and up 5.5% unadjusted year over year.
  • Clothing and clothing accessory stores were down 0.8% month over month seasonally adjusted but up 4.1% unadjusted year over year.
  • Sporting goods stores were down 0.5% month over month seasonally adjusted but up 3.4% unadjusted year over year.
  • Building materials and garden supply stores were down 0.1% month over month seasonally adjusted but up 0.7% unadjusted year over year.
  • Furniture and home furnishings stores were down 2.5% month over month seasonally adjusted but up 0.4% unadjusted year over year.
  • Electronics and appliance stores were up 0.3% month over month seasonally adjusted but down 2.2% unadjusted year over year.

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