The Commerce Department reported that retail sales outpaced expectations and rose a seasonally adjusted 2.3 percent in January as gasoline and automobile sales strengthened. Excluding the 2.9 percent gain in auto sales, seasonally adjusted retail sales rose 2.2 percent for the month. Overall, retail sales were the strongest since May 2004.
Retail sales were much more robust than the 0.9 percent gain anticipated by economists surveyed by MarketWatch, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Dow Jones & Company. Retail sales excluding autos were also far stronger than the 0.8 percent expected. Excluding auto sales, retail sales were the highest since December 1999. Retail sales for December were revised down to 0.4 percent from 0.7 percent. Excluding auto sales, retail sales for the month were unrevised, gaining 0.2 percent.
The numbers were strongly aided by warm weather in much of the United States in January, but February's numbers are likely to be much softer, economists say.
Sales at stores selling leisure-time items including sporting goods rose 1.5 percent, while clothing store sales climbed 4.2 percent. Sales at non-store retailers, such as catalogs and online, were down 2.6 percent.