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Clothing helps lift US retail sales in February

A rise in sales at US clothing retailers helped US retail sales win back a slight monthly dip seen in January, new figures show.

February retail sales increased 0.3% seasonally adjusted over January and 4.4% year-over-year as the economy continued to grow, according to figures from the National Retail Federation (NRF).

The February numbers, which exclude automobiles, gasoline stations, and restaurants, include a 10.5% rise year-over-year in online and other non-store sales, which were up 1% on January seasonally adjusted.

The numbers are based on data from the US Census Bureau, which said overall February sales – including automobiles, gasoline and restaurants – were down 0.1% seasonally adjusted from January but up 4% year-over-year.

Sales at clothing and clothing accessory stores increased 5.2% year-over-year and up 0.4% from January seasonally adjusted, while sporting goods stores showed the only year-over-year decrease, down 3.4%, but up 2.2% from January seasonally adjusted.

The February numbers won back a slight monthly dip seen in January, which declined 0.2% from December coming off one of the best holiday seasons in years, but was up 5.4% year-over-year. The three-month moving average was also up 4.4% over the same period a year ago.

"Consumers are still in the driver's seat," says NRF chief economist Jack Kleinhenz. "Month-to-month comparisons don't tell the whole story because of seasonal adjustment factors, but the three-month moving average and other year-over-year numbers are better indicators that reflect how sales are really increasing.

While Kleinhenz notes it's still too early to draw conclusions about the impact of the recent US tax cuts, "extra money in shoppers' pockets should help as the year goes forward."

He adds: "With consumer confidence and employment growing, economic fundamentals are favourable for spending to expand in the coming months."

The results come as NRF is forecasting that 2018 retail sales will grow between 3.8% and 4.4% over 2017.

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