Washington - February sales for CE and appliance dealers fell 1.4 percent to $8.3 billion year over year, the Commerce Department reported this morning.
But sales for the sector climbed 1 percent over January, the agency's monthly retail sales estimates show.
By comparison, total retail sales excluding food and auto rose 6.3 percent to $364.4 billion last month over February 2011.
"Pent-up demand is turning desires into needs, which is one reason why consumers have begun opening up their wallets," observed Jack Kleinhenz, chief economist for the National Retail Federation (NRF), an industry trade association. "There is no doubt that the economy is on the upswing, certainly compared to six months ago. Stronger-than-expected February sales and an improving labor market paint a bright picture of the U.S. economy, although the impact rising gas prices will have on the economy's momentum remains unclear."
Echoed NRF CEO Matthew Shay, "While February sales certainly present continued reason for optimism, retailers are paying close attention to rising gasoline prices, which are forcing millions of our customers to spend a significant portion of disposable income filling their gas tanks."
The sales estimates, generated by the Commerce Department's U.S. Census Bureau, are adjusted for seasonal variation and holiday and trading day differences, but not for price changes.
Separately, NRF reported that import cargo volume at the nation's major retail container ports is expected to increase 10 percent this month and that year-over-year gains should continue through mid-summer.
The forecast, developed by NRF and Hackett Associates, suggests that "stores are carefully stocking up," said NRF supply chain and customs policy VP Jonathan Gold. "Retailers only import more if they expect to sell more, so these numbers are a sign that optimism is growing."