WASHINGTON — U.S. retail
sales fell in February, as consumers pulled back their spending on
building materials, groceries, furniture, electronics and clothing
amid signs of a slowing economy.
The Commerce Department said Monday that retail sales fell 0.2
percent in February, after posting an upwardly revised gain 0.7
percent in January. Still, sales are running below their seasonally
adjusted levels from November after a sharp 1.6 percent decline in
Over the past year, retail sales have roughly kept pace with
inflation by increasing a slight 2.2 percent.
The recent dip in consumer spending suggests that more Americans are
tightening their belts amid slowing global growth and waning effects
of President Donald Trump's tax cuts at the end of 2017. Roughly 70
percent of all economic activity comes from consumers, so a slump in
retail sales could have a ripple effect. The end of the government
shutdown on January 25 failed to boost spending much, and the
initial round of tax data for February showed taxpayers were
receiving lower average refunds than in 2018.
"A couple of special factors — snowstorms and less income tax
refunds — may have weighed on spending, though it's disappointing
that consumers did not extend January's rebound despite the end of
the government shutdown," said Sal Guatieri, senior economist at BMO
Sales at building materials stores plunged 4.4 percent in February.
Electronics retailers and grocers posted declines of more than 1
percent. Department stores, clothiers and furniture shops also
suffered a setback in sales.
Still, auto sales rebounded slightly in February after a sharp drop
in January. And non-store retailers, a category that includes online
shopping, enjoyed gains of 0.9 percent in February and 10 percent in
the past year.