Weather and war chill February retail sales
By Don Hogsett -- Home Textiles Today, 3/17/2003 12:00:00 AM
With malls across the nation shuttered by winter storms and consumers consumed by anxiety about an impending war with Iraq, retail sales fell far further than expected during February, skidding down by 1.7 percent.
As consumers clutched their wallets and turned their backs on virtually every category of discretionary spending, retailers across the board were sand-bagged by the broad-based turn-down in spending, the single-biggest dip since November 2001.
The only major gain last month was recorded by gas stations, where sales shot up by 2.7 percent as oil prices rocketed higher on fears of a Middle East war. The only other major gainer was non-store retailing as consumers continued to surf the Internet.
Another gainer, albeit modestly so, was the combined department store and discounter channel, which edged up by 0.3 percent as consumers went back to basics and shopped the nation's mass merchants for everyday necessities and consumables.
The biggest loser last month was building material and garden supply stores, down by 7.5 percent as winter chills and snow killed their business. Car dealers took it on the chin for a second straight month, sales falling off by 3.6 percent after last month's even deeper slide of 8.2 percent.
Home-related businesses were hard hit as well, with sales in furniture and home furnishings stores sliding down by 1.6 percent, and sales of electronics and appliances losing 0.5 percent.
And rising oil and gas prices could continue to take a chilling toll on retail sales going forward, putting a dent in consumers' discretionary dollars, said Rosalind Wells, chief economist of the National Retail Federation.
Even if a war is averted or ended quickly, it could be until late in the year before retail sales pick up, said Wells.
Retail sales in February
|Source: U.S. Department of Commerce
|Dept. stores & discounters||+0.3|
|Health & personal care||+0.1|
|Building material & garden supplies||-7.5%|
|Clothing & accessories||-3.6|
|Furniture & home furnishings||-1.6|
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