WASHINGTON – Retail sales in the U.S. rose in February for the first time in three months, a sign consumers are starting to shake off the effects of the harsh weather that curbed spending even more than previously estimated.
The 0.3 percent advance followed a 0.6 percent drop in January that was larger than initially reported, Commerce Department figures showed today in Washington. The median forecast of 84 economists surveyed by Bloomberg called for a 0.2 percent advance. The rebound in demand was broad-based with nine of 13 major categories showing increases.
Americans ventured out to shop even as colder-than-normal temperatures and severe snowstorms blanketed parts of the U.S., showing the economic expansion is regaining momentum. Continued improvement in the labor market and gains in wages will be needed to sustain household purchases that are being spurred by rising stocks and home values.
“Consumer confidence has been pretty resilient throughout this entire period,” Guy Berger, an economist at RBS Securities Inc. in Stamford, Conn., said before the report. “Equities have been up a little bit for the year, so the wealth effects are still relatively favorable.”
Estimates in the Bloomberg survey ranged from a 0.2 percent drop to a 0.6 percent gain. The reading for January was revised down from an initially reported 0.4 percent decrease. December sales were also weaker, now showing a 0.3 percent drop compared with a previously reported 0.1 percent decrease.
Another report today showed the number of applications for unemployment insurance payments unexpectedly dropped last week, reaching the lowest level since late November. Claims for jobless benefits declined by 9,000 to 315,000 in the week ended March 8, according to figures from the Labor Department.
Stock-index futures extended earlier gains after the reports. The contract on the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index maturing this month rose 0.3 percent to 1,872.5 at 8:35 a.m. in New York.
The gains in retail sales last month were led by non-store retailers, which include Internet stores, indicating some customers were still struggling with poor weather and preferred to shop from the comfort of home. The category that includes purchases made online climbed 1.2 percent in February, the most since July 2013.