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Retail sales continue to lag through June

Consumers were buying cars, TVs and eating out last month, the Commerce Department reported, but they weren't buying much of anything else, and retail sales remained anemic in June, limping up just 0.2 percent, to a seasonally adjusted level of $292.9 billion from $292.2 billion in May (The above U.S. retail sales chart figures do not include sales from restaurants and bars.)

Bouncing back modestly from a steep 2.3 percent drop in May, sales in the nation's department stores, chains and discounters recovered by 1.0 percent, to a level of $19.7 billion from $19.5 billion in May. But sales in that key retail channel remained 1.3 percent beneath May levels and 0.6 percent beneath April results.

Not even holding their own, despite a near-record level of home sales, were furniture and home furnishings stores, where sales softened slightly, by 0.1 percent, to $7.62 billion from $7.63 billion the prior month. Over the past six months, sales in furniture and home furnishings stores declined by 0.3 percent from year-ago levels, to $43.7 billion.

Nor were consumers spending quite as much to fix up their homes. Spending at building materials and supplies retailers was off slightly, to $24.8 billion last month, and has slipped by 0.4 percent since April.

The strongest sales performer last month, as it has been for most of the past year, was auto sales, which jumped up by 1.5 percent, to $72.9 million from $71.8 billion in May. And people still love their toys, pushing sales of electronics, including TVs, computers and appliances, up by 1.1 percent, to $7.2 billion from $7.1 billion.

Perhaps drowning their sorrows after the steady wave of job cuts and layoffs, consumers were still heading out to the nation's restaurants and bars, where sales were relatively strong, moving up by 1.0 percent, to $26.9 billion from $26.7 billion in May. Gaining steadily moving into the summer months, restaurant and bar sales have grown by 1.9 percent over the past two months, outpacing any other major retail category.

Consumers are clearly pinching pennies on essentials like food, clothing and gas. Sales in grocery stores declined by 0.3 percent in June, to $36.0 billion from $36.1 billion in May. And particularly hard hit were sales in clothing stores, which declined by 1.0 percent to $14.0 billion from $14.2 billion. Over the past two months, sales in clothing stores were off by 2.2 percent from April levels.

Consumers may have been buying cars, but they were spending less for gas. Sales in gas stations were down by 1.8 percent in June, to $21.2 billion from $21.6 billion in May.

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