SpendingPulse: Retail sales up in February

New York City -- Retail sales in February rose in most categories ranging from clothing to furniture, despite winter storms and rising gas prices, MasterCard Advisors' SpendingPulse, which tracks spending in all forms including cash. While the increase maintains the positive performance that began in fall 2010. However, February’s year-over-year growth rates were smaller in most categories than those recorded in the November 2010 through January 2011 period.

“February held onto the momentum from the last few months. Ongoing strong performance by the financial markets and growing consumer confidence may have contributed to ongoing retail growth, especially in the upper tier of the different categories. This is even in the face of the disruptive weather that put a damper on spending in several sectors,” said Michael McNamara, VP research and analysis at SpendingPulse.

Here are some details on how the individual retail sectors fared in February:

  • In apparel, sales rose 6%, with increases in men's, women's and teen clothing.
  • Furniture sales rose 4%, the fourth consecutive monthly increase for that category, one of the hardest-hit during the recession.
  • E-commerce posted its fourth consecutive month of double-digit growth, rising by 13.2%, slightly higher than January’s 12%.

Michael McNamara said that if gas prices continue to rise -- the national average gasoline price passed the $3.15 mark last month for the first time since 2008 -- it could put a damper on spending.

"That's one of the things on the watch list," McNamara said.

Online sales rose 13.2%, continuing to outpace physical store sales. Higher gas prices actually could help online sales, McNamara said, if more people decide to shop at home.

Electronics and appliance sales fell 4.1%.

The International Council of Shopping Centers expects revenue in stores open at least one year will rise 2.5% to 3% industrywide.

"February has definitely been a rollercoaster ride for retailers as weekly sales continue to bounce back and forth," said Michael Niemira, ICSC VP research and chief economist, in a note last week.