Retail Sales Up for First Time in Three Months

U.S. retail sales increased in February for only the first time over the past three months, which is a sign that consumers have started to shake off ill effects of the severe winter that curbed spending more than was estimated previously.

The advance of 0.3% followed a drop of 0.6% during January that had been larger than reported initially, showed figures released by the Commerce Department. Economists surveyed called for an advance of 0.2% with nine of the 13 biggest categories showing an increase.

Americans started to venture out shopping even as the temperatures that were colder than normal and severe winter snowstorms blanketed different parts of the United States, which showed that economic expansion was gaining momentum.

Continued improvement in the U.S. labor market and increases in wages would be needed in order to sustain purchases made by households that are starting to be spurred on by increasing home values and rising stocks.

Another report released on Thursday showed that the number of new applicants for the unemployed for payments dropped unexpectedly last week. The figure reached the lowest level it has been since last November. Claims for benefits for the unemployed declined to 315,000, which represented a drop of 9,000.

Futures on Wall Street were up after the reports were released. The gains last month in retails sales were led by the non-store retailers, which include stores online, indicating some shoppers had been struggling with foul weather and preferred shopping from their home. The category includes purchases made on the Internet, which climbed 1.2% during February, which was the most since July of 2013.

Other areas that showed gains for February included the sporting goods sector where purchases were up by 2.5% and department stores that increased by 0.7%. Both increases were the most since January of 2013.

The region of the South Atlantic of the U.S. received its most snowfall over the second week in February since 1983. New England also received its most over the past 20 years over the same period. The winter snow of February followed the coldest January in the past three years.

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