Retail sales increase 0.3% in February

Retail sales rose 0.3 percent to $427.2 billion in February from the previous month, marking the first increase in the gauge since November, according to the Commerce Department.

The government revised down January sales, showing a 0.6 percent slide from December.

But February’s numbers seemed to suggest that the sales dip was a seasonal phenomenon, reflective of an unusually cold and stormy winter. Sales last month rose 1.5 percent compared to the same month in 2013.

Retail sales are considered to be a key indicator of economic health, as consumer spending accounts for more than two-thirds of the economy.

Excluding the more volatile effects of motor vehicles and parts sales, retail sales rose 0.3 percent from January and 1.3 percent from a year earlier.

In anticipation of spring, the season for home improvement projects, month-to-month sales of building materials and garden supplies rose 0.3 percent while climbing 3.2 percent from 2013.

The clothing and accessories category, which had lagged behind during the holiday season due in part to lack of innovation, enjoyed a 0.4 percent month-to-month boost in sales. The measure rose 2.6 percent from a year earlier.

Consumers spent 0.1 percent more at gas stations compared to January, but seemed to catch a break over the long term. Sales plunged more than 4 percent from the same period in 2013, reflecting a downward trend in fuel prices.

A gallon of gasoline currently costs an average of $3.50, compared to nearly $3.71 a year ago, according to the AAA Daily Fuel Gauge Report.

The government said that sales at health and personal care retailers surged 5.5 percent year over year. But the non-store segment, which includes online sales, proved to be the top performer, with sales booming 6.3 percent from February 2013.

Electronics and appliance stores suffered, slumping 0.2 percent from January and 2.4 percent from a year earlier. Shoppers spent 5.2 percent less year-over-year at sporting goods, hobby, books and music vendors and cut purchases by 4.8 percent at department stores.

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