SpendingPulse: Retail sales up in February

NEW YORK — Retail sales in February rose in most categories, despite winter storms and rising gas prices, according to MasterCard Advisors' SpendingPulse.

The increase maintained the positive performance that began in fall 2010, but February’s year-over-year growth rates were smaller in most categories than those recorded in the November 2010 through January 2011 period.

“February held onto the momentum from the last few months," said Michael McNamara, VP research and analysis at SpendingPulse. "Ongoing strong performance by the financial markets and growing consumer confidence may have contributed to ongoing retail growth, especially in the upper tier of the different categories. This is even in the face of the disruptive weather that put a damper on spending in several sectors.”

McNamara said that if gas prices continue to rise — the national average gasoline price passed the $3.15 mark last month for the first time since 2008 — it could put a damper on spending. "That's one of the things on the watch list," he said.

Online sales rose 13.2%, continuing to outpace physical store sales. Higher gas prices actually could help online sales, McNamara said, if more people decide to shop at home.

The International Council of Shopping Centers expected revenue in stores open at least one year to rise 2.5% to 3% industrywide. "February has definitely been a rollercoaster ride for retailers as weekly sales continue to bounce back and forth," said Michael Niemira, ICSC VP research and chief economist, in a note last week.

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