With a spring in their step, retailers marked 20 consecutive months of sustained year-over-year retail sales growth in February as unseasonably warm temperatures and comparisons with weak sales in 2011 resulted in stronger-than-expected increases. According to the National Retail Federation (NRF), the world’s largest retail trade association, February retail industry sales (excluding automobiles, gas stations and restaurants) increased 0.5 percent seasonally adjusted from January, and 8.6 percent unadjusted year-over-year.

“Though February is typically a month for consumers to stay home and wait for spring, shoppers this year took advantage of mild weather to get a head start on outdoor projects and warm-weather apparel,” NRF President and CEO Matthew R. Shay said. “While February sales certainly present continued reason for optimism, retailers are paying close attention to rising gasoline prices, which are forcing millions of our customers to spend a significant portion of disposable income filling their gas tanks.”

February retail sales, released yesterday by the U.S. Department of Commerce, showed total retail sales (which include non-general merchandise categories such as autos, gasoline stations and restaurants) increased 1.1 percent adjusted month-to-month and 10.3 percent unadjusted year-over-year. NRF continues to forecast retail industry sales will rise 3.4 percent in 2012 to $2.53 trillion.

“Pent-up demand is turning desires into needs, which is one reason why consumers have begun opening up their wallets,” NRF Chief Economist Jack Kleinhenz said. “There is no doubt that the economy is on the upswing, certainly compared to six months ago. Stronger-than-expected February sales and an improving labor market paint a bright picture of the U.S. economy, although the impact rising gas prices will have on the economy’s momentum remains unclear.”

Other findings from February retail sales numbers include:

  • Pleasant weather lifted retail sales at sporting goods, hobby, book and music stores 1.0 percent seasonally-adjusted month-to-month and 7.4 percent unadjusted year-over-year.
  • Homeowners used the mild winter to work outdoors, which helped sales at building material, garden equipment and supplies dealers increase 1.4 percent seasonally-adjusted month-to-month and 18.2 percent unadjusted year-over-year.
  • Department stores saw increased retail sales of 1.5 percent seasonally-adjusted month-to-month and 4.8 percent unadjusted year-over-year.
  • New spring and summer fashions helped lure shoppers to clothing and clothing accessories stores, which saw retail sales increase by 1.8 percent seasonally-adjusted month-to-month and 11.6 percent unadjusted year-over-year.

As the world’s largest retail trade association and the voice of retail worldwide, NRF represents retailers of all types and sizes, including chain restaurants and industry partners, from the United States and more than 45 countries abroad. Retailers operate more than 3.6 million U.S. establishments that support one in four U.S. jobs – 42 million working Americans. Contributing $2.5 trillion to annual GDP, retail is a daily barometer for the nation’s economy. NRF’s Retail Means Jobs campaign emphasizes the economic importance of retail and encourages policymakers to support a Jobs, Innovation and Consumer Value Agenda aimed at boosting economic growth and job creation. www.nrf.com.