U.S. retail sales slide in January

Don Hogsett, February 16, 2004

Hit by a slide in car sales, overall U.S. retail sales unexpectedly lost ground in January, slipping by 0.3 percent and giving up all of December's revised increase of 0.2 percent, according to the U.S. Commerce Department.

Most of the pain was confined to the slumping automotive sector, where sales tumbled by 4.2 percent, following a modest revised increase of 0.2 percent the prior month.

Excluding volatile car sales — subject to monthly swings and frequent revisions — retail sales turned in a sturdy performance, rising by 0.9 percent, to $248.9 billion from $246.8 billion in December, the agency reported. Gainers outnumbered decliners by a margin of two to one during the month.

Helped by persistent cold weather across much of the nation, clothing and accessories retailers were January's biggest winners, pushing sales up by 2.9 percent.

Home goods outlets, however, turned in a spotty performance. Sales in furniture and home furnishings stores fell by 0.9 percent, after running flat in December. Electronics and appliances retailers reported sales edged up by 0.1 percent following a stronger gain of 0.2 percent in December.

Do-it-yourselfers took a breather, hampered by the weather, and sales in building material and garden supply outlets fell by 0.9 percent.

Retail Sales in January (by channel)

Source: U.S. Department of Commerce
Clothing & accessories +2.9%
Grocery stores +1.8
Gas stations +1.7
Sporting goods, hobby, books & music +1.6
Restaurants & bars +1.1
Department stores +0.5
Health & personal care +0.5
Electronics & appliances +0.1
Car dealers -4.2%
Furniture & home furnishings stores -0.9
Building material & garden supplies -0.9
Non-store retailers -0.3

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