NRF: Retail sales look fine on a wider look

US retail sales fall

US retail sales fall

Retailers hope the tax break will lead Americans to increase shopping this year, giving the economy a lift. Excluding automobiles, gasoline, building materials and food services, retail sales edged up 0.1 percent last month after being unchanged in January.

A disappointing retail sales result in February was slightly less bad in light of revisions to January, nonetheless, back-to-back-to-back sales declines reaffirm both the intransigent sluggishness of consumer spending, and hence overall economic growth, and as a result the limited capacity for consumer inflation to accelerate on a sustained basis.

The consumer spending, which accounts for more than two-thirds of the United States economic activity, seems to have slowed down at the beginning of the year after rising 3.8% year-over-year in the fourth quarter.

Slower consumer spending supports expectations of moderate economic growth in the first quarter.

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Andrew Hunter, US economist at Capital Economics, said that sales were "subdued..." Gasoline station sales are up 7.9% since February 2017. The economy created 313,000 jobs in February.

Wednesday's report showed declines in spending at vehicle dealers, furniture stores, health stores, gasoline stations, and department stores.

The drop was unexpected in part because many Americans' tax withholdings dropped in early February due to a $1.5 trillion tax break signed into law late previous year.

Clothing and clothing accessory stores were up 5.2 percent year-over-year and up 0.4 percent from January seasonally adjusted. Receipts at petrol stations declined 1.2%, reflecting lower fuel prices.

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That boosted the year-on-year increase in the so-called core PPI to 2.7 percent, the biggest gain since August 2014, from 2.5 percent in January.

Home improvement spending has increased significantly over the past year. At the same time, however, the sales of building materials increased by 1.9% last month.

The US central bank's preferred inflation measure, the personal consumption expenditures price index excluding food and energy, has been undershooting its target since May 2012. Nonstore retailer sales are up 10.1% year-over-year as online retailers continue to grow their market share. Consumers also spent more at restaurants and bars and splurged on sporting goods and hobbies.

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