Retail Sales Rise, But Modestly, as Shoppers Step Out

What Wednesday’s Economic Reports Tell Us

Young woman paying cashier in clothing store.
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Retail sales rose in February, but only very modestly, and applications for mortgages declined last week, reports showed Wednesday.

Retail Sales

  • Retail sales increased 0.3% between January and February, much less than the 4.9% growth seen the month before, but only slightly less than the 0.4% economists had forecast, according to data from the Census Bureau.
  • Compared to January, people shopped less online and spent more at restaurants, a sign the recent decline in COVID-19 cases made people feel safer to go out to eat, economists said. 
  • Monthly retail spending is still up 25% from pre-pandemic levels, but that figure is less impressive—only about 10%—when you account for today’s rampant inflation, according to economists at Oxford Economics. And with necessities like food, gas, and housing all taking a bigger bite out of household budgets, people will likely be forced to cut back on other kinds of spending in the months ahead, they said. 

Mortgage Applications

  • The volume of mortgage applications fell 1.2% for the week through March 11 as rising mortgage rates continued to discourage refinancing, the Mortgage Bankers Association said.
  • The association’s refinancing index dropped 3% for the week and has fallen 49% over the year as mortgage rates marched upward, increasing nearly a full percentage point in 12 months. The average rate for a 30-year fixed mortgage rose to 4.27% from 4.09% the week before, the MBA said, reaching its highest level since May 2019. 
  • Purchase applications, which are not as sensitive to mortgage rate movements, went the opposite way, edging up 1%.

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