Retail sales and forecasts improve, but still cool

LANSING – Sales and short-term forecasts for Michigan retail businesses improved during February, but they still have a lot of frozen ground to make up after the extreme winter, according to the latest Michigan Retail Index, a joint project of Michigan Retailers Association (MRA) and the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago.

“We saw a small thaw in the numbers, but February’s unrelenting cold and snow continued to hammer most consumers and retailers,” said James P. Hallan, MRA president and CEO.

“What we need is a good, warm spring to help everybody get back on track.”

The February survey of MRA members showed 42 percent of retailers increased sales over the same month last year, while 46 percent recorded declines and 12 percent reported no change. The results create a seasonally adjusted performance index of 49, up from 42.5 in January but short of the important 50 mark.

The 100-point Index gauges the performance of the state’s overall retail industry, based on monthly surveys conducted by MRA and the Federal Reserve. Index values above 50 generally indicate positive activity; the higher the number, the stronger the activity.

Looking forward, 54 percent of retailers expect sales during March–May to increase over the same period last year, while 19 percent project a decrease and 27 percent no change. That puts the seasonally adjusted outlook index at 61.7, up from 58.5 in January but below 67.3 a year ago.

Across the nation, February retail sales excluding autos and gasoline rose 0.3 percent, slightly better than expected, according to the U.S. Commerce Department. That followed a revised 0.6 percent decline in January.

Note: William Strauss, senior economist and economic advisor with the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, can be reached at 312.322.8151.