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Retail sales stage unexpected rebound

  Business  -   POSTED: 2008/02/13 09:28

Sales at retailers unexpectedly rose 0.3 percent in January, partly reflecting stronger sales of new cars and gasoline, according to a Commerce Department report on Wednesday.

January's sales increase followed a 0.4 percent decline in December and was contrary to Wall Street analysts' forecasts for a 0.2 percent decline. The surprise sales rise caused stock futures to jump on hopes it meant the United States had a better chance of skirting a recession.

Prices for U.S. debt securities fell while the dollar's value strengthened against other major currencies.

Excluding autos, January sales still rose 0.3 percent, reversing a 0.3 percent decline in December sales. Wall Street analysts were expecting a 0.2 percent gain in sales excluding autos.

"The data is clearly a surprise to the upside," said Omer Esiner, a market analyst with Ruesch International in Washington, D.C. "In the near term, it does ease some recession concerns."

Despite the higher headline number for sales, there were declines in many categories that implied consumer spending was being pinched. Furniture sales fell 0.5 percent in January, building material sales were down 1.7 percent and department store sales declined by 1.1 percent.

Many analysts think the slowing U.S. economy faces increasing risks of tumbling into recession and are closely watching for signs that consumers, who fuel 70 percent of national economic activity, will keep scaling back spending.


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