Minus Cars, Retail Sales Solid

Don Hogsett, February 21, 2005

Washington — 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.

Once poor car sales are pulled out of 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 by pulling 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.

Scoping out sales by retail channel, 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.

Retail sales in January
by channel

Source: U.S. Department of Commerce
Clothing & accessories 1.8%
Gas stations 1.8
Restaurants & bars 0.7
Health & personal care stores 0.6
Sporting goods, books, music 0.6
Grocery stores 0.5
Department stores 0.3
Car dealers -3.8%
Electronics & appliance -0.6
Building mat./garden supplies -0.3
Non-store retailers -0.2
Furniture/home furn. Stores -0.1

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