Warm weather prompted more Americans to go shopping last month. Retail sales rose 1.1% from a month ago, meeting economists’ expectations.
Retailers took in $407.8 billion, 6.5% more than a year ago. This is the second consecutive month of expanding retail sales: January saw a 0.6% increase over December, higher than originally expected, according to Commerce Department revised data.
Building suppliers saw some of the largest spending as sales rose 13.8%.
Markets are ready to open in the green today. Dow Jones Industrial Average futures advanced 67 points. Nasdaq composite futures edged up, by about seven points. S&P 500 index futures advanced too.
The Dow has rallied for four straight days now. It closed at 12959.71 yesterday, advancing around 0.3%. Consumer cyclical stocks were among yesterday’s leaders. Procter & Gamble increased 1.2% to $67.71. Coca-Cola shares rose 0.9% to $70.15.
Pepsi was also on the move, rising 1.2% to $63.69 after the company said it was shaking up its management team. Pepsi has brought in a former Wal-Mart executive, Brian Cornell, to head its U.S. snacks division. Cornell’s predecessor, John Compton, became Pepsi’s first-ever president.
Utility stocks also advanced yesterday. Exelon rose 2.3% to $39.81. Constellation Energy spiked nearly 3% to $37.32.
The retail sales may have already been priced in to some extent. Chain stores reported strong monthly sales last week, led by Target and Gap stores.
Strong retail sales can indicate strong consumer spending, a key measure of economic health. Many economists though warn that spending may fall later this year—once the benefit of the warm weather disappears.
Rising gasoline prices remain a concern too: The spike in oil didn’t come until the end of last month, and won’t fully affect shopping until this month. While gas prices have remained steady in the past week, they remain elevated for year over year. West Texas Intermediate closed at $106.34 a barrel yesterday, up from $101.16 a year ago.
“Given the headwinds of higher oil prices and the slowing global economy, the U.S. economy in general—and the U.S. consumer in particular—will need to demonstrate some serious resilience in the months ahead to keep the recent momentum building,” says Jim Baird, chief investment strategist at Plante Moran, a financial advisory firm with $7.5 billion under management.
Aside from the retail figures, investors today will have a Federal Open Markets Committee meeting to digest. Some economists have suggested that the recent strong employment data may force Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke to raise interests rates before the anticipated date in 2014.
Fresh business inventory data will also guide today’s trading.