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Minus cars, retail sales solid

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Hobbled by a steep drop in car sales, U.S. retail sales slipped 0.3 percent during January, their weakest showing since an August decline. But pulling car sales out of the picture, retail sales were unexpectedly strong, rising 0.6 percent.

Eliminating car sales from the total, retail sales were twice the 0.3 percent increase analysts had been expecting, and twice the 0.3 percent increase recorded during December. Fueling the gains — and creating a skewing effect bypulling some sales dollars out of December and into January — consumers flocked to the malls to cash in their Christmas gift cards and take advantage of clearance sales.

The biggest gainers during January were clothing and accessory stores, where sales jumped 1.8 percent, and gas stations, where rising fuel prices pushed sales up 1.8 percent. But elsewhere gains were more muted, and key home categories reported declines. Sales in furniture and home furnishings stores slipped 0.1 percent, following a 2.2 percent increase the month before. And sales in electronics and appliance stores dipped 0.6 percent, weakening further after December's 0.2 percent decline.

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