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Retail Sales Post Surprise Jump
By JEFF BATER
The Wall Street Journal
February 13, 2008 8:48 a.m.
WASHINGTON -- Retail sales unexpectedly climbed in January, given a boost by demand for cars and gasoline in a positive sign for the economy.
Retail sales increased by 0.3%, the Commerce Department said Wednesday. Sales went down an unrevised 0.4% in December.
Economists surveyed by Dow Jones Newswires estimated a 0.4% decline in January retail sales.
The sales report is a key indicator of U.S. consumer spending. Consumer spending makes up about 70% of gross domestic product, the broad measure of economic activity in the U.S. GDP grew a sluggish 0.6% in the fourth quarter, after racing along at a 4.9% pace during the third quarter.
High prices for gasoline and falling home values are seen as factors depressing spending. Another worrisome sign for spending -- and the economy -- is a soft job market. Nonfarm payrolls declined by 17,000 jobs in January, the first drop since August 2003.
And yet the retail sector data Wednesday showed U.S. sales of automobiles and parts increased by 0.6% in January. December sales had fallen 1.1%.
Sales of all other retailers excluding auto and parts dealers increased in January by 0.3%; economists expected a 0.2% increase. Ex-auto sales in December had gone 0.3% lower, revised from a previously estimated 0.4% decrease.
January gasoline station sales increased by 2.0%. Gas sales were unchanged in December. Stripping away sales at gas stations, demand at all other retailers inched 0.1% higher in January.
Excluding gas and auto sectors, demand at other retailers last month was unchanged. Sales rose 1.4% at clothing stores; 0.8% at health and personal care stores; 0.6% at food and beverage stores; 0.5% at mail order and Internet retailers; and 0.1% at general merchandise stores.
Sales fell by 1.3% at sporting goods, hobby and book stores and 0.5% at eating and drinking places.
Sales in categories related to the housing sector tumbled -- building material and garden supplies dealers dropped 1.7% and furniture store sales fell 0.5%. Sales slid by 1.0% at electronics and appliance stores.