Retail Sales Up 0.3% In January

The Department of Commerce's monthly tally of retail sales shows a 0.3 percent gain in January over December. Year-over-year sales are up 7.8 percent from January 2010.

Calculated Risk has further analysis and charts. The economic blog observed that, "Retail sales are up 13.7 percent from the bottom, and now 0.4 percent above the pre-recession peak."

But the news isn't all good. The gain was a bit lower than the 0.5 percent expected by analysts. Furthermore, Business Insider notes that gains are heavily concentrated in the fuel and grocery segments.

The site noted:

Gasoline station sales spiked 1.4%, month-over-month, from December to January. More alarmingly, they're up 12% year-over-year from January 2010.

Food and beverage store sales are up 1.3%, month-over-month, from December to January. They're up 4.3% year-over-year.

Things like clothing stores, building materials, and sporting goods are all down month-over-month. Sales are still up at those stores, year-over-year, but not at a rate anywhere close to gas station sales."

The results seem to contradict the suprisingly strong same-store sales numbers reported two weeks ago.

Part of the difference is that the Commerce Department is attempting to gauge all retail sales while the same-store sales number includes less than three dozen retailers. In addition, the Commerce Department figure includes auto and gas sales, which are largely stripped out of the same-store figure.

As BI also notes, the number could indicate that inflation in food and energy prices could be taking a toll as consumers spend more in these areas and less on discretionary items. At any rate, you combine this with the fact that unemployment is still at 9.0 percent, the housing market remains terrible and Americans, by and large, are continuing to deleverage and we still have some issues to work through before we return to a robust consumer spending environment.

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