Retail spending declined by 0.1 percent in February for the third straight month, starting the new year off with disappointing consumer data. Motor vehicle and parts sales were down 0.9 percent in February, decreasing for the fourth consecutive month, and one of the larger drags in the latest report. Along those lines, retail spending excluding automobiles was up 0.2 percent in February, extending the 0.1 percent gain seen in January. Despite the softer figures, the larger narrative remains an encouraging one, with consumers being a bright spot over the past year. Indeed, retail sales have risen 4.0 percent year-over-year in February, suggesting a decent pace overall even if it represented a deceleration from the more-robust rate of 5.9 percent in November. Excluding motor vehicles and parts, the pace was somewhat stronger, with retail sales up 4.4 percent over the past 12 months.
Retail spending data were mixed in February. The largest increases were seen in the following categories: sporting goods and hobby stores (up 2.2 percent), building material and garden supply stores (up 1.9 percent), nonstore retailers (up 1.0 percent), clothing and accessory stores (up 0.4 percent), food services and drinking places (up 0.2 percent) and miscellaneous store retailers (up 0.1 percent). In addition to declining motor vehicles sales, other segments with reduced spending in February included furniture and home furnishing (down 0.8 percent), general merchandise (down 0.4 percent), health and personal care (down 0.4 percent), electronics and appliances (down 0.1 percent) and food and beverage (down 0.1 percent) stores.
Over the past 12 months, the fastest growth in retail sales were in the following types of businesses: nonstore retailers (up 10.1 percent), gasoline stations (up 7.9 percent), miscellaneous store retailers (up 7.5 percent), clothing and accessory stores (up 4.9 percent), building material and garden supply stores (up 4.6 percent) and electronics and appliance stores (up 4.5 percent). The jump in sales for gasoline stations was boosted by higher prices.