Apparel retail sales edge up in February

US retail sales beat estimates in February as consumers shrugged off economic uncertainties, higher payroll taxes and gasoline prices.

Data released by the US Department of Commerce, shows total retail and food services sales (which include automobiles, gasoline stations, and restaurants) increased 1.1% in February compared with a month earlier. Retail sales were up 4.6% year-on-year.

Sales at clothing and clothing accessories stores were 0.2% higher than in January, and 3.1% above February last year.

But sales at department stores fell 1.0% from January and were 3.8% lower than last February. At Sporting goods, hobby, book and music stores, month-on-month sales declined 0.9%, but rose 3.9% on a year earlier.

Stripping out the impact of automobiles, gas stations and restaurants, data from the National Retail Federation (NRF) showed February retail sales increased 0.7% from January and rose 0.5% year-on-year.

“It may be too early to measure the impact of the payroll tax hike and higher gasoline prices on consumer spending,” said NRF chief economist Jack Kleinhenz.

“However, this portends a good, but not great, first quarter for retailers as consumers continue to breathe life into the economy.”

However, NRF president and CEO Matthew Shay cautioned: “While retail sales numbers indicate good momentum for the economy, consumers with less earning power may continue to face ongoing pressure and retail sales will encounter further challenges as sequestration takes full effect in March.”

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