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Today the U.S. Census Bureau released preliminary estimates of nationwide retail sales in February 2024 and revised estimates for January 2024. (The data include both brick-and-mortar and Internet sales.)

Retail Sales Growing. Seasonally adjusted U.S. retail sales dropped 0.4 percent from November to February. Cumulative twelve-month growth in sales from February 2023 to February 2024 was 1.5 percent.

Recent One-Month Changes Too Volatile to Be Informative. As noted previously, recent patterns suggest that the Census Bureau’s seasonal adjustment for retail sales might not be working as intended. Until these concerns are addressed, numbers that are less sensitive to seasonal patterns---such as the three-month and twelve-month growth rates noted above---likely provide more useful information than monthly numbers.

Inflation-Adjusted Sales Declined Over Last 3 Months and Over Last 12 Months. Across all goods and services purchased by consumers, U.S. prices increased by 0.9 percent from November to February, so the decline in real purchases was bigger than the 0.4 decline in nominal sales. From February 2023 to February 2024, prices grew 3.2 percent, outpacing the 1.5 percent growth in sales over that twelve-month period.


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