Economy Watch: Retail Sales Edge Up in February

Electronics and appliance retailers took the biggest hit in February, as seen by the recent bankruptcy of electronics retailer HH Gregg.
Source: U.S. Census Bureau
Source: U.S. Census Bureau

U.S. retail and food services sales eked out a 0.1 percent increase in February, considerably less than in January, the Census Bureau reported on Wednesday. The January increase was also revised to 0.6 percent, while sales in December were up 1 percent. Compared with February 2016, the retail sales increase was 5.7 percent.

The bureau adjusts for seasonal variation and holiday and trading-day differences, but not for price changes. Since inflation has been relatively low in recent years, price changes haven’t been that much of a factor in retail sales, except for gasoline, which tends to be volatile (down 0.6 percent in February, but up 19.6 percent for the year, as gas prices rose).

Electronics and appliance retailers took the biggest hit in February, with sales down 2.8 percent for the month and 6 percent for the year, as the Internet becomes the go-to place to buy electronics. Severely declining sales were certainly a factor in the recent bankruptcy of HH Gregg, an electronics retailer headquartered in Indianapolis.

Department stores also suffered during the month (down 1.1 percent) and year (down 5.6 percent), and they too are closing stores rapidly. By contrast, health and personal care stores enjoyed a 0.7 percent increase in sales for the month, as did furniture stores. Internet sales were up 1.2 percent for the month, and 13 percent for the year in February.