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Mar. 14, 2014

Economy Watch: Retail Sales Rebound in February; Another Home Price Metric Up

By Dees Stribling, Contributing Editor

The Census Bureau said on Thursday that today U.S. retail and food services sales — adjusted for seasonal variation, along with holiday and trading-day differences, but not for price changes — were $427.2 billion for February, an increase of 0.3 percent from the previous month. The monthly change January 2014 was revised from a 0.4 percent drop to a 0.6 percent drop, so the February report was a considerable improvement. Compared with the same month last year, sales were up 1.5 percent in February 2014.

Naturally, some kinds of retail did better than others in February. Sporting goods, book, and music retailers saw sales increase 2.5 percent for the month, though they were down 5.2 percent for the year. Clothing and furniture stores both enjoyed rises of 0.4 percent for the month, and a number of other categories rose 0.3 percent: autos and auto parts, DIY stores, and restaurants. Nonstore retail saw a rise of 1.2 percent for the month, and a whopping 6.3 percent increase compared with last year.

Other retailers lost ground. General merchandise sales — from dollar stores to retail behemoths — were down 0.3 percent for the month, and 4.8 percent for the year. Electronics lost 0.2 percent for the month, and 2.4 percent for the year. Gas sales, which are affected by price more than anything else, gained 0.1 percent for the month, but declined 4.6 percent since last year.

Another Home Price Metric Up 

The latest FNC Residential Price Index, which was released on Thursday, shows U.S. home prices have gotten off to a slightly positive start in 2014, rising a modest 0.4 percent in January for the 100 largest MSAs. The index, which gauges price movement among normal home sales but not distressed properties, indicates that the overall housing market continue to strengthen as market fundamentals and credit conditions improve.

The index is up 9 percent from a year ago, the fastest year-over-year growth since the recovery began, according to FNC. Home prices are expected to rise modestly again in February, as improving signs are emerging in the for-sale market, the company predicts.

The two narrower FNC indices (30- and 10- MSA composites) show faster month-over-month price appreciation in the nation’s top housing markets, up 0.6 percent and 0.8 percent, respectively. The 30- and 10-MSA composites’ year-over-year trends also show more rapid growth rate — in double digits in fact — and, similar to the national index, the fastest year-over-year growth since the recovery began.

Wall Street dove from near-record highs on Thursday, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average losing 231.19 points, or 1.41 percent. The S&P 500 was off 1.17 percent, while the Nasdaq dropped 1.46 percent.

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