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Furniture & Gas Purchases Push Up Canadian Retail Sales

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Consumers filling their tanks with gas and buying furniture and clothing pushed Canadian retail sales higher in February, giving retailers some relief after declining sales at the start of the year.

Retail sales increased 0.4 per cent in February to $37.3 billion, Statistics Canada reported Thursday. The agency said the largest contribution to February’s increased retail purchases was from gasoline sales, which increased 1.3 per cent.

Gasoline prices have been surging along with crude oil, which began rising sharply in February with the outbreak of unrest in Libya, an OPEC member that accounted for about four per cent of the world’s crude output before the civil war.

As of Thursday, the Canadian average price compiled by GasBuddy.com was 129.6 cents per litre, up from about 118 cents per litre at the end of February.

But lower retail sales in Quebec, a 0.8 per cent decline, contributed the most towards the “dampening” of national retail sales, Statistics Canada said.

“The decline reflected, in part, lower sales of new motor vehicles in the province,” the federal agency said. “This was the second decline in retail sales in Quebec following six consecutive monthly gains.”

Quebec also increased its provincial sales tax to 8.5 per cent in January, up a percentage point.

Sales at clothing and clothing accessories stores were up 2.5 per cent, offsetting a decline in January. Sales at furniture and home furnishings stores grew 2.1 per cent in February, helped by gains in real estate sales.

CIBC economist Emanuella Enenajor noted that retailers finally saw improvements in February but said the numbers were no reason to “pop open the champagne bottle,” noting that auto sales were down for the third consecutive month after a string of gains beginning in May of last year.

“Although shoppers avoided dealers’ lots, they didn’t hold back on other big-ticket items,” she wrote in a research note. “Furniture and home furnishings sales rose 2.1 pert cent with a hefty monthly gain in furniture sales.”

Geographically, retail sales in February gained in six provinces of 10 provinces, powered by Ontario where sales increased 0.7 per cent after two consecutive monthly declines.

In addition to Ontario, the other provinces to show increases were P.E.I. (up 0.8 per cent), Manitoba (two per cent), Saskatchewan (0.4 per cent), Alberta (1.5 per cent) and British Columbia (0.7 per cent).

Besides Quebec, other declines were registered in Newfoundland and Labrador (down 0.3 per cent), Nova Scotia (1.1 per cent), and New Brunswick (0.6 per cent).

Among the three territories, Yukon was up 2.0 per cent, Northwest Territories was up 0.2 per cent and Nunavut fell 4.1 per cent.

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