The expiration of the payroll tax holiday left a lot of people worrying about the state of the American consumer in early 2013. Then an alarmist Walmart memo indicating potentially cratering sales further spurred panic. But the Census Bureau’s February retail sales numbers are out (PDF), and they show an American economy that’s still plugging along fine. Year over year nominal sales increased by 4.6 percent, which is just fine. Month to month the increase was 1.1 percent, which is also fine.
What is true is that “general merchandise stores” (department stores and similar) suffered a 4 percent decline. That’s ugly. But autos were up, grocery stores were up, apparel stores were up, restaurants were up, and the exciting nonstore retailers category soared 14 percent. Amazon killing department stores, in other words, isn’t the same as poor retail sales.