Gas prices ate into Americans' budgets last month

High fuel costs caused us to pay more at the pump in February and cut back just about everywhere else.

By Jason Notte Mar 13, 2013 4:10PM
Image: Buying gas (moodboard/Corbis/Corbis)So how did you spend your February? Probably by spending a whole lot on gas and very little on anything else.

The Census Bureau indicated that retail sales were up in February to their highest in five months, but gave a whole lot of credit to gas prices that AAA says peaked close to $3.80 a gallon nationwide near the end of the month. That fueled a 5% hike in gas station sales from January to February, but didn't give companies that weren't Exxon Mobil (XOM) or ConocoPhillips (COP) much reason for joy.

Fuel prices have dropped since, but they've already taken a hefty toll on businesses in the suburbs. With drivers less likely to waste gas on a jaunt to the local strip mall or to their casual-dining chain of choice, spending at department stores like Macy's (M) and J.C. Penney (JCP) dropped 3.8% from February of last year while sales at restaurants like Darden's (DRI) Olive Garden, Bloomin' Brands' (BLMN) Outback Steakhouse and Brinker International's (EAT) Chili's were off 4%.

February's an ugly catch month between the end of the holiday season and the start of spring. Throw in some harsh late-season winter storms in the Midwest and Northeast, and it becomes even more nightmarish. In fact, one of the few bits of good news keeping the month from being a complete spending disaster was the 4.5% uptick in sales at home and garden stores like Home Depot (HD) and Lowe's (LOW) from February of last year. All those sales of shovels and bags of salt pile up in a hurry.

So is there any reason to hope for a more prosperous spring ahead? Well, there is the auto industry. Aided by Presidents Day deals, automakers sold 8.8% more cars in February than they did last year and continued the resurgent auto sales that helped drive economic recovery in 2012. Combine that with an improved jobs report, strong consumer confidence and record-high stock performance, and consumers should be feeling a lot less dour once they can stop hocking furniture to fill their gas tanks.

More on moneyNOW

Mar 13, 2013 4:47PM
Out of control. What ever happened to supply and demand? Now just speculation and market fixing. A good thing gone bad.
Mar 13, 2013 5:54PM
The American economy would be doing much better if the government would stop allowing the oil companies to gouge us, and the oil futures traders to be profiteers.
Mar 13, 2013 5:18PM
Fix oil fixing prices! everybody stop buying Mobile One products. it will only take about a week to fix their price fixing!
Mar 13, 2013 5:58PM

"This to us is something that we're not going to give up on, because we're not going to give up on destroying the health care system for the American people".


~Paul Ryan~



Mar 14, 2013 1:50AM
Good jobs numbers are you kidding. Let us know when unemployment falls to 4.8%.  Then we can talk about a recovering economy.  Stock prices for many companies are up because the have a lot of cash on hand. Why is this some ask.  It's because companies are not hiring because of Obamacare. Also there is a lot of foreign money coming into the market because the European markets are terrible.
Mar 13, 2013 4:59PM
The answer is simple; don`t buy gas, use my limo service.
Mar 13, 2013 8:05PM
Its kinda like hiring a prostitute and then telling how wrong it is. This is the mentality of a person that has a hate for someone that is doing something they hate. They will violate their own principles to push their view down someones throat.
Mar 13, 2013 6:50PM
I have eaten at two different 5 Guys(Lodi, NJ and Stroudsburg, PA). Neither one of these places showed me anything. But onto the subject at hand.

The employees at these restaurants are paid close to the minimum wage. They and millions of other low wage workers need to work two jobs just to stay even. With no health care they tend to frequent  emergency rooms. This costs the TAX PAYER billions of dollars a year. The Affordable Health Care Act gives all of use a leg up on affording some kind of health care. In the long run this Act will save the USofA  billions of dollars down the road.

The problem with most of you is that you have been listening to the "Right Wing" for so many years you just do not know the truth.

This country is the only civilized country on the face of the Earth that does not provide health to its people.
Mar 13, 2013 6:01PM
That's $303 million extra profit over the last two months.
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