WASHINGTON — Consumer spending came back down to earth last month, after robust activity in January, as shoppers kept a closer hold on their wallets.

Sales at apparel and accessories stores fell a seasonally adjusted 3.3 percent in February to $16.2 billion, but were still 1.6 percent ahead of a year earlier, according to a Commerce Department report. Revised figures for January showed a 2.4 percent rise against the preceding month and an 8.1 percent jump from a year earlier.

Sales at department stores fell 1.4 percent for the month to $18 billion and were off 2.8 percent from February 2005. This came after a 1.4 percent rise in January, which was also 0.4 percent ahead of a year earlier.

J.P. Morgan Chase economist James Glassman said the report sent some mixed signals due to unseasonable weather and fluctuations in energy prices.

“When you look through all that choppiness, what you’re seeing is consumer spending that’s gradually slowing,” he said.

For complete coverage, see tomorrow’s WWD.

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