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Economy in Brief

U.S. Retail Sales Fell, Nonauto Spending Moderate
by Tom Moeller February 15, 2004

US retail sales fell 0.3% in January, about as expected due to a 3.3% (+5.6% y/y) decline in spending on motor vehicles. The 1.1% rise in December sales was little revised.

Sales excluding motor vehicles rose 0.6% following an unrevised 0.4% increase in December. Consensus expectations had been for a 0.5% gain.

Spending on discretionary items was mixed last month. Apparel store sales jumped 1.8% (3.9%) following two months of decline and sales at general merchandise stores gained 0.9% (6.5% y/y). Sales at furniture & home furnishings stores fell 0.4% (+1.9% y/y) for the third consecutive monthly decline and building material store sales fell 0.3% (+14.1% y/y).

Sales of nonstore retailers (internet and catalogue) fell 0.2%, 11.3% y/y, but these sales have risen to 9% of nonauto retail sales less gasoline versus less than 7% ten years ago.

Gasoline service station sales recovered 1.8% (17.3% y/y) even though gasoline prices fell slightly last month. Nonauto retail sales less gasoline rose 0.5% (6.6% y/y) in January. In February gasoline prices have risen 4.0% versus January.

  Jan Dec Y/Y 2004 2003 2002
Retail Sales & Food Services -0.3% 1.1% 7.2% 7.6% 5.3% 2.5%
  Excluding Autos 0.6% 0.3% 7.6% 8.5% 5.2% 3.2%
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