February retail sales rise in most categories

Retail sales in February rose in categories ranging from clothing to furniture, despite winter storms and rising gas prices, according to data released Wednesday.

Retail sales in February rose in categories ranging from clothing to furniture, despite winter storms and rising gas prices, according to data released Wednesday.

Figures released by MasterCard Advisors' SpendingPulse, which tracks spending in all forms including cash, show clothing sales rose 6 percent, with increases in men's, women's and teen clothing.

Furniture sales rose 4 percent, the fourth consecutive monthly increase for that category, one of the hardest-hit during the recession.

"The momentum we've been seeing over the past several months is more or less continuing to hold," said Michael McNamara, vice president of research and analysis at SpendingPulse.

However, he 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.

Luxury sales excluding jewelry rose 1.7 percent, a slower pace for a sector that recovered more quickly than others post-recession. But McNamara said that could be just because luxury spending shifted to jewelry during the month because of Valentine's Day. He didn't give a monthly figure for jewelry but said the category was up.

Online sales rose 13.2. percent, 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 percent. Electronics sales overall have been hurt by drastically lower prices for flat-panel televisions.

More details on February spending will come Thursday when major retailers, including Target Corp. and Macy's Inc., report their sales at stores open at least a year.

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

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

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