Taxable sales in Nevada, Las Vegas surge by double digits

That recession thing? It's not such a big deal anymore.

That's what consumers seemed to say in February, as Clark County's taxable sales posted their largest year-over-year gain since May 2006.

Statewide sales of tangible goods soared 10.2 percent, to $3.2 billion, while sales in Clark County spiked 11.1 percent, to $2.4 billion, the state Department of Taxation said Thursday.

Sales in various sectors from cars to restaurant meals boomed despite skyrocketing gasoline prices and state and local unemployment stuck above 12 percent.

"The mindset of consumers has moved beyond the recession," said Brian Gordon, a principal in local research firm Applied Analysis. "They're spending in spite of challenges that continue to loom. Consumers are returning to the market and to more normalized levels of spending."

Steve Brown, director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at UNLV attributed improved spending partly to recession fatigue: Consumers are tired of holding back.

But Brown also noted that personal income in Nevada has been rising faster than employment, increasing from $101 billion in the fourth quarter of 2010 to $105 billion in the last quarter of 2011. Part of that gain comes from passive income, or earnings from stocks and other investments that have seen healthy growth in recent months. That means some Nevadans have more spending money though the state's economic indicators remain grim.

Salaries and wages have grown as well, rising from $50.9 billion in the fourth quarter of 2010 to $53.5 billion in the same period in 2011.

Gordon also noted that leap year gave February an extra day, which probably tacked on about 3 percentage points to the month's total. Even without that added day, February sales would have shown a solid jump in the high single digits, Gordon said .

Among major spending sectors:

■ Dealers of cars and car parts saw the biggest jump, with Clark County sales soaring 22 percent, to $262.8 million, when compared with February 2011.

■ Sales in general merchandise stores, including department stores, rose 15.5 percent, to $253.7 million.

■ Clothing and accessories retailers posted a 9.9 percent gain, with sales of $243.3 million.

■ Bars and restaurants, the biggest spending category with 27.6 percent of the total, increased sales 12.9 percent, to $666.5 million.

Construction even improved its sales, with a 20 percent jump year over year in Clark County, though the sector fell 25.5 percent statewide. Hotel renovations may be behind part of the local increase, but Brown said building permits for apartments have also risen in recent months. Construction spending will probably bounce around in coming months but stay depressed compared with pre-recession levels because of oversupplies in housing and commercial space, Gordon said.

February's sales were the highest for the month since 2008, also a leap year. Sales four years ago were $3.62 billion statewide and $2.75 billion in Clark County.

What's more, if you add up the numbers in the 12 months ending in February, you get a 6.8 percent increase - the highest trailing 12-month growth rate since October 2006, Gordon said.

But numbers were more than 15 percent below the peak for February, reached in 2007, when state sales hit $3.83 billion and county sales reached $2.85 billion .

Contact reporter Jennifer Robison at or 702-380-4512.