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US retail sales boost as January numbers impress, clothing strong, department stores up

Surprisingly good news for US retail in January. Sales rose solidly last month and virtually across the board – even beleaguered department stores were up – and clothing had its best month in almost a year.

A possible sign that higher consumer confidence since the US election has encouraged Americans to spend more… for now, sales at retail stores and restaurants increased 0.4% month-on-month to a seasonally adjusted $472.14bn, the Commerce Department said Wednesday.

Total retail sales also jumped 5.6% on a year-on-year basis, more than outpacing consumer-price increases.

Analysts had expected a more modest 0.1% on-month increase and a 0.5% gain, excluding autos, in January. Also, December’s sales growth was revised higher in Wednesday’s report, to a 1% gain from an earlier estimate of a 0.6% rise.

Compared with December, sales at clothing and accessories stores rose a seasonally adjusted 1% to $21.6bn, department store sales increased 1.2% to $12.7bn, the biggest increase since December 2015, and general merchandise stores, with includes department stores and discounters, rose 0.9% to $55.8bn. However, department-store sales fell 3.2% compared to a year ago.

Non-store sales (online) were flat last month compared to December but jumped 12% on a year ago.

Excluding motor vehicles and automotive parts, overall sales rose 0.8% from December, the strongest reading since last April.

Auto sales were down 1.4% from the prior month, but spending at petrol stations rose 2.3% on-month and jumped 14.2% on-year.

January sales at restaurants and bars rose 1.4% on-month, the strongest gain in 11 months, and were up 5.6% on-year.

* Consumer prices in the US climbed 0.6% on-month in January, much more than expected, according to a report released by the Labor Department on Wednesday. Consumer price index had climbed 0.3% in December. The Labor Department said the increase in core prices reflected higher prices for apparel, new vehicles, motor vehicle insurance, and airline fares, all up by 0.8%. Food prices rose in January for the first time in seven months, while grocery prices were unchanged, but the cost of eating out rose 0.4%. Overall, consumer prices rose 2.5% from a year earlier, most since March 2012.