WASHINGTON — February retail sales rose 8.6% over last year, marking 20 consecutive months of sustained growth, The National Retail Federation reported Tuesday.
The seasonally adjusted increase -- stronger than expected -- was 0.5%, which excludes automobiles, gas stations and restaurants.
“Though February is typically a month for consumers to stay home and wait for spring, shoppers this year took advantage of mild weather to get a head start on outdoor projects and warm-weather apparel,” NRF president and CEO Matthew R. Shay said. “While February sales certainly present continued reason for optimism, retailers are paying close attention to rising gasoline prices, which are forcing millions of our customers to spend a significant portion of disposable income filling their gas tanks.”
NRF continues to forecast retail industry sales will rise 3.4% in 2012 to $2.53 trillion.
“Pent-up demand is turning desires into needs, which is one reason why consumers have begun opening up their wallets,” NRF chief economist Jack Kleinhenz said. “There is no doubt that the economy is on the upswing, certainly compared to six months ago. Stronger-than-expected February sales and an improving labor market paint a bright picture of the U.S. economy, although the impact rising gas prices will have on the economy’s momentum remains unclear.”
Other findings from February retail sales numbers include a 1% seasonally adjusted rise at sporting goods, hobby, and book and music stores (up 7.4% unadjusted year-over-year), a 1.4% increase at building material, garden equipment and supplies dealers (18.2% unadjusted year-over-year), a 1.5% rise at department store (4.8% unadjusted), and a 1.8% increase at clothing and accessories stores (11.6% unadjusted).