Retail sales continued to bounce back in February, although not as strongly as economists projected and the picture is still clouded by the pandemic, rampant inflation, worries over the war in Ukraine and more.
February retail and food service sales rose a seasonally adjusted 0.3 percent from January, according to the latest monthly reading from the Census Bureau. That came in just shy of the 0.4 percent gain outside experts projected.
Against a year earlier, sales have rebounded strongly and are up 17.6 percent, but it hasn’t been a smooth path higher with Omicron, early holiday shopping and other factors creating surges and then pullbacks.
Apparel and accessories specialty store sales inched up 1.1 percent from January and were up 30.6 percent from a year ago. Department store sales increased 1.6 percent from January and were ahead 22.8 percent from February 2021.
The jitteriness in retail sales was most apparent in nonstore retail, a category dominated by e-commerce. Nonstore sales fell a seasonally adjusted 3.7 percent from January, pulling back from a 20.6 percent gain between January and December — a back and forth that also could speak to the difficulties at the Census Bureau when it comes to adjusting seasonal variations out of the numbers.
While the last few years have been dominated by extraordinary swings in the market, fed at first by a near complete retail lockdown and then by COVID-19 disruptions to the supply chain, retail groups are looking for growth to continue, albeit at a slower pace.
The National Retail Federation projected on Tuesday that U.S. retail sales would grow by 6 percent to 8 percent this year, logging $4.86 trillion. Still, that’s a slowdown from the 14 percent annual growth rate seen in 2021.
Now the big question is how the system — already buffeted on all sides — will react as the Federal Reserve moves to tamp down higher prices by ratcheting up interest rates, a long-awaited step the central bank is expected to take Wednesday.
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