Retail sales thaw out in February

Retail sales thawed out last month after plunging in January as severe winter weather battered most of the country.

February sales rose by a seasonally adjusted 0.3 percent, a swing back into positive territory after a 0.6 percent drop the previous month, which was even lower than first reported, the Commerce Department said Thursday.

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"Today’s positive retail sales report indicates that the economy is primed for growth,” said Matthew Shay, president and CEO of the National Retail Federation (NRF).

"Retailers and consumers endured the harsh winter and they’re hoping both the natural and man-made obstacles to growth will leave with the snow.”

Consumers increased their spending on autos, clothing, furniture and at sporting goods, hobby, book and music stores.

The data are a good sign that consumers have emerged from winter’s deep freeze after pulling back their purchases in December and January when snowstorms blanketed many regions.

The bump in sales is another positive along with the jobs creation figures released last week that showed employers adding 175,000 jobs last month, a good sign that the two-month economic slowdown was caused by temporary factors.

Overall, sales were up 1.5 percent in the past 12 months.

Spending accounts for about 70 percent of economic activity and is vital to the growth.

“Despite a long and cold winter, consumers continued to persevere and spend in February,” said Jack Kleinhenz, NRF’s chief economist.

“However neither the jobs nor retail data reflect the fundamental health of the economy. While the weather continues to play tricks on economic forecasts and figures, we expect much-needed clarity come spring as consumers release pent-up demand.”

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