Unexpected fall for U.S. retail sales

Unexpected fall for U.S. retail sales

Retail sales in the United States fell in February amid further signs of economic weakness.  

US retail sales unexpectedly fell in February, the latest sign of weak economic growth as the impact of a temporary stimulus from $1.5 trillion in tax cuts and increased government spending fades.

Retail sales dropped 0.2% as households cut back on purchases of furniture, clothing, food and electronics and appliances, as well as building materials and gardening equipment.

The report from the Department of Commerce Monday joins a number of other indicators, including housing starts and manufacturing production, that have left analysts anticipating a sharp slowdown in growth in the first quarter.

The phenomenon also reflects higher interest rates, slowing global growth, Washington’s trade war with China, and uncertainty over Brexit.

Notably, last month, the Federal Reserve chose to abruptly end its three-year campaign to tighten monetary policy, abandoning projections for any interest rate hikes this year.

The dollar slipped against a basket of currencies after the report while US Treasury prices pared losses.

Currently, growth estimates for the January-March quarter are as low as a 0.8% annualized rate. By way of comparison, the economy grew at a 2.2% rate in the fourth quarter of 2018 after expanding by 3.4% in the July-September period.

Sales of building materials and garden equipment fell by 4.4%, the biggest drop since 2012. Receipts at clothing stores fell 0.4% and those at furniture outlets dropped 0.5%.

Sales at food and beverage stores declined by 1.2%, the biggest drop since February 2009, while purchases at electronics and appliances stores fell by 1.3%.

In more positive news, sales at auto dealerships rebounded 0.7% after declining by 1.9% in January. Online and mail-order retail sales rose 0.9% and purchases at restaurants and bars grew by 0.1%.


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Paul Imison
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