Winter Blows Cold Winds on Retail Sales

Shoppers In SnowWASHINGTON-Suffering from the impact of severe winter weather throughout the nation, U.S. retail sales in January fell 0.4 percent from December, to $427.8 billion, according to this morning’s retail sales report from the U.S. Census Bureau.

That total was 2.6 percent ahead of January one year ago. The channels that sell home goods had a particularly rough month. Sales at furniture and home furnishings stores were down 0.6 percent from December and 2.4 percent from last year’s January.

General merchandise stores logged a sales decrease of 0.1 percent month to month along with a 0.2 percent gain year over year. Department stores (excluding leased departments) saw sales drop 1.5 percent from December and 5.7 percent from January 2013.

In its statement on the Census Bureau numbers, the National Retail Federation attributed the weak sales picture to the weather problems throughout the nation. Jack Kleinhenz, NRF’s chief economist, said the weather is also making it tough to judge how retail sales will proceed in the coming months.

“Extreme temperatures and severe ice and snow are making it increasingly difficult to assess if the retail sales slowdown is temporary or a telling sign of a longer lasting weakness in the consumer-fueled economy,” Kleinhenz said. “No one can jump to any solid conclusion until we shovel out of the snow.”