February Same-Store Sales Show Surprising Strength

Blame it on Valentine's Day.

Preliminary results show that U.S. retailers posted strong same-store sales gains in February across almost every industry sector. Analysts for Thomson Reuters expect that the sales growth figure for the month will reach 3.4 percent, helped by extra store visits in the days leading to Valentine's Day and during the three-day weekend marking President's Day. According to The Wall Street Journal:

The three-day Presidents Day weekend and Valentine's Day were events that drew some extra buying. The National Retail Federation said the average person celebrating Valentine's Day spent $126.03, up 8.5% from last year's $116.21, and the highest in the survey's 10-year history. Last year, shopping over these holidays was constrained by more severe weather. Total spending for Valentine's Day this year was expected to reach $17.6 billion compared with $15.7 billion last year.

In ICSC's estimates, February same-store sales rose 6.7 percent, the most significant monthly increase since April of last year. Unsurprisingly, wholesale clubs did well with growth of 8 percent, as did discounters, with growth of 7 percent.

But there was also noticeable strength among apparel chains, which posted collective growth of 6.6 percent. Even the Gap delivered its first same-store sales gain in months, at 4 percent.

ICSC's tally included 21 retailers.

RetailSails also reported a 6.7 percent increase for the month, based on results from 19 retailers. The increase marked 30 consecutive months of same-store sales growth.

Yet the blog cautions against unchecked optimism:

Consumer confidence indices have rebounded to the best levels in a year and are approaching levels not seen since before the recession. However, we have seen this movie before – spending was strong last year heading into spring and gas prices started to spike, effectively killing what was expected to be the start of a strong recovery. Well, prices at the pump have jumped nearly 50 cents just since Christmas and are already tracking 10% higher than last year. One research firm already sees cracks in the foundation over uncertainty about household income and a fear that the momentum in the job market may be losing steam.
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