The Week Ahead: Retail data will reveal polar vortex's impact

March 8, 2014 

The polar vortex may be more than a meteorological phenomenon. It is an economic excuse, too.

Artic cold temperatures and multiple snowstorms did not make ideal conditions for the nation's retailers in February, as the Commerce Department's monthly retail sales report will show on Thursday. Last month was the coldest February in seven years, according to Weather Trends International speaking with MarketWatch. Snow piled up to its highest level in 25 years. These are not ripe conditions for consumer discretionary spending.

Location counts, however. Auto dealer AutoNation saw its new vehicles sales increase in February to their highest level since 2007. The company sold 4 percent more new cars, trucks and SUVs last month, compared to a year earlier. With much of the county gripped in a deep freeze and auto dealers shoveling out their lots regularly last month, AutoNation's business model focusing on Sun Belt states paid off.

Most big retailers aren't

so geographically concentrated. A private survey from Redbook Research finds national chain-store sales fell 1.3 percent in February from January.

A drop in February retail sales data should not come as a surprise to investors. What remains a question is if the severe weather in February merely delayed economic activity or destroyed it.

We will have to wait for the spring thaw to have the answer.

Tom Hudson, financial journalist, hosts "The Sunshine Economy" on WLRN-FM in Miami, where he is the vice president of news. He is the former co-anchor and managing editor of "Nightly Business Report" on public television. Follow him on Twitter HudsonsView.

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