Frigid temperatures and snowstorms ravaged the U.S. in January, causing retail sales for the month to fall slightly, according to a report released Thursday by the U.S. Census Bureau. A larger drop in automotive sales helped pull figures down after the busy holiday period in December.
Total sales receipts for U.S. stores, from big-box chains to mom-and-pop shops, were down 0.4 percent in January. That was more than the 0.1 percent drop that analysts had been expecting.
“Thus ‘Polar Vortex’ has become tiresome and costly,” Diane Swonk, chief economist at Mesirow Financial Holdings Inc., said in a note.
In December receipts decreased 0.1 percent, revised down from the U.S. Census Bureau’s original 0.2 percent increase.
Total sales for January reached $427.8 billion, the bureau said in its report. While sales were down from December, they were 2.6 percent higher than the same period a year ago, as consumers spent more in January.
Motor vehicle and parts dealers were the worst performing sector in January, with sales for cars and parts falling 2.1 percent. But gas station sales were among the strongest performing sectors as consumers were still braving the cold in their existing cars. Gas station sales rose 1.1 percent for the month.
Colder than usual temperatures and multiple snowstorms across the Midwest, Northeast and the South kept consumers indoors in January. Some analysts wonder if it will be possible to recoup the drop in sales as temperatures begin to rise.
“It’s difficult to see a rebound when incomes, particularly in the retail and service sectors, are getting hit repeatedly,” said Swonk.