Harsh Weather Weakens February Retail Sales

FinancialsMar 18, 2021

Harsh Weather Weakens February Retail Sales

Between snowstorms in the Northeast and ice storms in the South, consumer spending took a hit last month.

Winter weather greatly impacted retail sales in February, but stimulus payments are expected to bolster consumer spending in the weeks ahead.
New York—Consumer spending in the United States faltered in February, impacted by rough winter weather across the country.

Overall retail sales were down 3 percent month-over-month in February to $561.7 billion, according to data from the U.S. Department of Commerce, though sales were up 6 percent year-over-year.

The results fell short of analyst expectations of a monthly drop of 0.5 percent.

In January, sales were up 7.6 percent month-over-month and 9.5 percent year-over-year as per the revised figures.

“February’s retail sales numbers are a minor speed bump on the road to post-pandemic recovery and are not a reflection of consumers’ willingness and ability to spend and drive the economy,” National Retail Federation CEO Matthew Shay said. 

Shay noted major snowstorms in the Northeast and ice storms in the South greatly impacted the results but said the incoming stimulus payments will bolster consumer spending in the weeks ahead.

“Looking forward to the spring, and with consumer confidence at its highest level since last March, we remain optimistic that retail will help facilitate a surge in spending, job growth and capital investment in the second half of the year as more Americans are vaccinated and local economies reopen nationwide.”

NRF Chief Economist Jack Kleinhenz said the decline didn’t take him by surprise after January’s strong numbers in comparison.

“Despite that, it’s hard to see this as a setback when you consider how large the year-over-year gains are and that sales are well above pre-pandemic levels.”

Though there have been month-over-month declines, sales have grown year-over-year every month since June, according to Census data.

On top of the winter storms, the Internal Revenue Service’s delay in accepting tax returns pushed back the receipt of funds, he noted.

As the vaccine rollout continues and government stimulus money is allocated, he expects to see more shoppers hitting stores. 

“With another round of stimulus checks being mailed right now, we expect another large boost in consumer spending over the next few months.”

The retail organization also calculates monthly retail sales, narrowing in on core retail and excluding auto sales, gas stations, and restaurants.

Its calculations show February sales were down 3.4 percent seasonally adjusted from January and up 7.1 percent unadjusted year-over-year.

February retail sales were down in every category except groceries, which were unchanged, on a month-over-month basis. 

The NRF noted sales were up year-over-year in two-thirds of categories, which it said gives better insight into long-term trends and the state of the economy.
Lenore Fedowis the associate editor, news at National Jeweler, covering the retail beat and the business side of jewelry.

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