Auto slump holds down US retail in February

Slumping US auto sales are putting a dent in retail activity, which was down in February for the third straight month

Washington (AFP) – Falling auto sales held down the US retail sector in February for the third straight month while a holiday shopping bounce continued to recede, official data showed Wednesday.

Weakness in the retail sector could point to slower growth in the first quarter of the year. But outside the automotive sector, there were some signs of strenth, with consumers snapping up sporting goods, clothing and accessories.

Total retail and food services sales fell 0.1 percent in February, the same decrease recorded in January and December, with consumers plunking down a total of $492 billion for purchases, according to the Commerce Department.

Officials caution that the results are subject to revision and were outside the margin of error. But it still significantly undershot analyst expectations, which instead called for a 0.3 percent increase. 

Consumer spending was still four percent above its level in February of last year.

Sales of cars and trucks tumbled 0.9 percent for the second month in a row while gas stations had their weakest month since June.

The February slump also extended to sales of furniture, food and beverage stores, electronics, health and personal care items and services and general merchandise. Department stores also sank.

Sales of building materials saw their biggest gain since the post-hurricane reconstruction efforts of September.  Non-store retailers like Amazon also had another solid month, gaining one percent over January.

Bars and restaurants likewise posted a modest 0.2 percent increase.