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Severe U.S. Weather Impacts January Sales

January retail sales, excluding automobiles, gas stations and restaurants, were flat seasonally adjusted month-to-month yet increased 3% unadjusted year-over-year, according to the National Retail Federation. Severe winter weather in much of the country contributed to flat sales, the NRF said as consumers leveled off post-holiday shopping and spending in the beginning of the year as a result.

 “Following a solid holiday sales season, it seems that many consumers decided to take a break from the stores and shopping malls this January in an attempt to avoid winter weather,” NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay said. “While the dip in retail sales was somewhat anticipated, it is concerning that both jobless claims came in above projections and that consumer spending were flat in January— it’s not the way to kick off a new year.

“Even though policymakers decided wisely to increase the debt ceiling this week so the nation would not default on its obligations, more can be done to spur consumer confidence and spending and employment and economic opportunity.”

January retail sales, released today by the U.S. Census Bureau, which include categories such as automobiles, gasoline stations, and restaurants, decreased 0.4% seasonally adjusted month-to-month yet increased 2.6% adjusted year-over-year.

“Harsh winter weather is masking the performance of the broader economy,” Jack Kleinhenz, NRF chief economist, said. “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. No one can jump to any solid conclusion until we shovel out of the snow.”

Earlier this month, NRF released its annual economic forecast projecting a 4.1% increase in retail sales in 2014.

Broken down into categories, furniture and home furnishing stores saw sales decrease 0.6% adjusted seasonally month to month; year over year, sales in this category decreased 2.1% as compared with 2013. Health and personal care stores also saw sales decrase 0.6% month to month; this channel saw sales increase 3.1% unadjusted year over year. General merchandise stores’ sales decreased 0.1% month to month but increased 1.4% year over year.