Washington—For the third straight month, February retail sales declined. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, retail sales fell 0.6 % last month after a 0.8% decline in January. December sales had been down o.9%.
Excluding autos, gas, building materials and restaurants, sales were flat after a .01% decline in January.
Economists had projected these so-called core retail sales would rise 0.4%. The weak results could mean economists would lower their first quarter growth estimates.
Most blamed the frigid weather in most of the nation as sales hindered.
Yet the decline in sales also reflects ongoing consumer caution in the aftermath of the Great Recession. Sales fell 1.2% at electronics and appliances stores and by the same amount at mass merchandisers. Even restaurants reported a 0.6% drop in sales. Clothing and clothing accessories stores were flat with January (up 2.4% year-over-year).
Less Robust Than Hoped
“The data are not as bad as the headline numbers suggest but neither can we say consumer spending is growing as robustly as some had hoped,” Dan Greenhaus, chief strategist at brokerage BTIG LLC, said.
“American consumers saw their shadows, snow mounds and low temp thermometers last month and decided to stay indoors,” NRF Chief Economist Jack Kleinhenz said. “Extreme winter weather in many parts of the country impacted store sales in February, and as such monthly retail sales came in weaker than expected.”
“While employment and wages have improved, consumers throttled back their spending in February, although they maintain the desire and the means to spend,” Kleinhenz said. “With the onset of warmer, spring-like temperatures and an earlier Easter, consumers will likely shake off the winter blues and retail sales should rebound.”
But shoppers have been surprisingly cautious in the past three months.
The Associated Press reported that analysts predict it could take three to six months for consumers to spend “found money,” such as a tax rebate or savings from cheaper gas.