Make us your home page
Instagram

February retail sales post solid gain

WASHINGTON — Thanks to solid job creation, Americans spent more at retailers in February despite smaller paychecks. The surprisingly strong increase helped allay fears that higher Social Security taxes and gasoline prices might chill spending early this year.

Much of the increase in February retail sales compared with January reflected the higher gas prices. But even excluding the volatile categories of gas, autos and building supply stores, so-called core retail sales rose strongly.

Americans increased their overall retail spending 1.1 percent last month over January, the department said. It was the sharpest month-to-month increase in five months. Core sales rose 0.4 percent.

Over the past 12 months, retail sales have risen 4.6 percent — far more than consumer inflation, which has been less than 2 percent over that time.

"This all suggests that the hit to spending from the payroll tax cut and higher gasoline prices, which reduce the amount of cash available to spend on other items, hasn't been too bad," said Paul Dales, senior U.S. economist at Capital Economics. "The recent pickup in both employment and earnings growth bodes well for consumption growth later in the year, too."

Auto sales jumped 1.1 percent last month, the sharpest gain since December. Sales at gas stations surged 5 percent, the most since a 6 percent increase in August.

Sales at general merchandise stores, which include major department stores such as Macy's and big discount stores such as Wal-Mart and Target, rose 0.5 percent in February. But the department store category as a whole fell 1 percent.

Joel Naroff, chief economist at Naroff Economic Advisors, said he thinks retail spending, if it strengthens further, could increase economic growth from an annual rate of 2 percent or slightly higher in the January-March quarter to a 4.2 percent rate in the April-June quarter. That would likely be strong enough to drive down the unemployment rate, which is a still-high 7.7 percent.

But Naroff said his forecast is based on the assumption that Congress and the Obama administration will strike a deal to reverse the automatic government spending cuts that took effect March 1. If they don't, he said the economy would likely grow more slowly — at an annual rate of about 3 percent — in the April-June quarter.

Other reports

Here is a summary of other key economic reports released Wednesday:

. U.S. companies increased their restocking in January from December, an encouraging signal that they expect consumers will spend more this year and help the economy grow faster. The Commerce Department said business stockpiles grew 1 percent in January. That's up from 0.3 percent growth in December and the biggest gain since May 2011.

. The U.S. federal budget deficit jumped by $203.5 billion in February, the Treasury Department said. That followed a small surplus of $2.9 billion in January. And February's gap was $28 billion smaller than the same month a year ago. Through the first five months of the budget year that began on Oct. 1, the deficit is $494 billion. That's nearly $87 billion lower than the budget gap for the same period a year ago.

. Chief executives at the largest U.S. companies are much more optimistic about their sales prospects than they were three months ago, though many remain cautious about hiring. The Business Roundtable said Wednesday that 72 percent of its members expect sales will increase in the next six months, up from 58 percent at the end of last year. However, only 29 percent of CEOs plan to increase hiring over the next six months, the same percentage as the last two surveys.

February retail sales post solid gain 03/13/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 13, 2013 7:39pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

Copyright: For copyright information, please check with the distributor of this item, Associated Press.
    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Last steel beam marks construction milestone for Tom and Mary James' museum

    Growth

    ST. PETERSBURG — Tom and Mary James on Wednesday signed their names to the last steel beam framing the 105-ton stone mesa that will be built at the entrance of the museum that bears their name: the James Museum of Western and Wildlife Art.

    The topping-out ceremony of the James Museum of Western & Wildlife Art was held Wednesday morning in downtown St. Petersburg. Mary James (from left), husband Tom and Mayor Rick Kriseman signed the final beam before it was put into place. When finished, the $55 million museum at 100 Central Ave. will hold up to 500 pieces of the couple's 3,000-piece art collection. [Courtesy of James Museum of Western & Wildlife Art]
  2. Heights Public Market to host two Tampa Bay food trucks

    Business

    TAMPA — The Heights Public Market announced the first two food trucks for its "rotating stall," which will feature new restaurants every four months. Surf and Turf and Empamamas will be rolled out first.

    Heights Public Market is opening this summer inside the Tampa Armature Works building.
[SKIP O'ROURKE   |   Times file photo]

  3. Author Randy Wayne White could open St. Pete's biggest restaurant on the pier

    Food & Dining

    ST. PETERSBURG — The story begins with Yucatan shrimp.

    St. Petersburg Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin, pilot Mark Futch, Boca Grande, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, and author and businessman Randy Wayne White,  Sanibel, exit a Maule Super Rocket seaplane after taking a fight around Tampa Bay off the St. Petersburg waterfront, 6/28/17.  White and his business partners are in negotiations with the City of St. Petersburg to build a fourth Doc Ford's Rum Bar & Grille on the approach to the St. Petersburg Pier with a second event space on the pier according to White. The group met near Spa Beach after a ground breaking ceremony for the new pier. "We want to have our business open by the time the pier opens," said White. Other Dr. Ford restaurants are located on Sanibel, Captiva and Ft. Myers Beach. SCOTT KEELER   |   Times
  4. Guilty plea for WellCare Health Plans former counsel Thaddeus Bereday

    Business

    Former WellCare Health Plans general counsel Thaddeus M.S. Bereday pleaded guilty to one count of making a false statement to the Florida Medicaid program, and faces a maximum penalty of five years in federal prison. A sentencing date has not yet been set, acting U.S. Attorney W. Stephen Muldrow of the Middle District …

    WellCare Health Plans former general counsel Thaddeus M.S. Bereday, pleaded guilty to one count of making a false statement to the Florida Medicaid program, and faces a maximum penalty of five years in federal prison. A sentencing date has not yet been set, acting U.S. Attorney W. Stephen Muldrow of the Middle District of Florida stated Wednesday. [LinkedIn handout]
  5. DOT shows alternatives to former Tampa Bay Express toll lanes

    Transportation

    TAMPA — State transportation officials are evaluating at least a half-dozen alternatives to the controversial Tampa Bay interstate plan that they will workshop with the community over the next 18 months.

    Florida Department of Transportation consultant Brad Flom explains potential alternatives to adding toll lanes to Interstate 275 during a meeting Wednesday at the DOT’s Tampa office. Flom presented seven diagrams, all of which swapped toll lanes for transit, such as light rail or express bus, in the I-275 corridor from downtown Tampa to Bearss Avenue.