Store sales slow in January

By Parija Kavilanz, senior writer


NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- Retailers logged slight increases in store sales last month as consumers primarily focused on paying for grocery and gasoline purchases, the government reported Tuesday.

The Commerce Department said total retail sales rose 0.3% last month.

Economists surveyed by Briefing.com on average had forecast an increase of 0.5% for January, compared to a 0.6% gain in sales the prior month.

Despite missing expectations, the January increase was the seventh consecutive gain in the government measure, indicating that consumers have been more comfortable shopping for discretionary goods in recent months that they were a year ago.

"January is generally a clearance month for leftover holiday merchandise," said Ken Perkins, president of sales tracker Retail Metrics.

"Consumers also typically take a breather in January. That is more the case this year, especially after the shopping strength that we saw in both November and December," he said.

"So I wouldn't be too concerned about the softer increases in the month," Perkins said.

Sales excluding autos and auto parts also rose a weaker-than-expected 0.3%, compared to a 0.5% increase in ex-auto sales in December.

Economists had forecast a rise of 0.6% in the measure for January, according to Briefing.com.

The government report showed gasoline station sales increased 1.4% in January, boosted by higher gas prices in recent weeks. Grocery store sales also increased 1.4% in the month while online sales rose 1.2%.

But sales at electronics stores increased a modest 0.3%. Sales were up 0.5% at department stores and up 0.8% at general merchandise sellers.

Offsetting those increases, building material sales slumped 2.9%, and sales at sporting goods and music stores fell 1.3%. Also, furniture store sales dipped. And consumers cut back on new clothes, resulting in a 0.3% decline in apparel store sales.

The National Retail Federation, the industry's largest group said in a statement Tuesday that a sustained uptick in retail sales will depend on the direction of economy.

"In spite of the economic uncertainties that still exist, consumers are clearly demonstrating their desire to spend on discretionary items once again," federation CEO Matthew Shay said Tuesday.

Factors, including stock market gains, tax cuts, income growth and savings built up during the recession are contributing to the recent increase in consumer spending, the group said.

"The industry is certainly benefiting from the renewed confidence we're seeing in shoppers, although sustained growth in 2011 will largely rely on improvement in key economic indicators like employment and housing," Shay said. To top of page

Frontline troops push for solar energy
The U.S. Marines are testing renewable energy technologies like solar to reduce costs and casualties associated with fossil fuels. Play
25 Best Places to find rich singles
Looking for Mr. or Ms. Moneybags? Hunt down the perfect mate in these wealthy cities, which are brimming with unattached professionals. More
Fun festivals: Twins to mustard to pirates!
You'll see double in Twinsburg, Ohio, and Ketchup lovers should beware in Middleton, WI. Here's some of the best and strangest town festivals. Play
Index Last Change % Change
Dow 17,042.90 -28.32 -0.17%
Nasdaq 4,493.39 -12.46 -0.28%
S&P 500 1,972.29 -5.51 -0.28%
Treasuries 2.51 0.02 0.68%
Data as of 7:58pm ET
Company Price Change % Change
Ford Motor Co 14.79 -0.32 -2.12%
Bank of America Corp... 17.05 0.04 0.24%
eBay Inc 56.63 3.97 7.54%
Apple Inc 100.75 0.64 0.64%
General Electric Co 25.62 0.20 0.79%
Data as of 4:00pm ET

Sections

CNNMoney's Italian-American investing correspondents did a taste test of Olive Garden's food. They agree with hedge fund Starboard: It's not very appetizing. More

Even limited air operations could cost up to $4 billion a year, says a think tank, while large ground forces could cost $1.8 billion a month. More

Microsoft showed off the new Windows 10 at an event for business customers Tuesday. More

On Wednesday, 17% of First Green Bank's 66 employees will get a raise under the company's new "living wage" program. The guarantee: At least about $30,000 a year. More

This mom of four only makes $29,000 a year and is losing $400 a month because the state is garnishing her paycheck over a debt. Now she is about to be evicted from her apartment. More

Market indexes are shown in real time, except for the DJIA, which is delayed by two minutes. All times are ET. Disclaimer Morningstar: © 2014 Morningstar, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Disclaimer The Dow Jones IndexesSM are proprietary to and distributed by Dow Jones & Company, Inc. and have been licensed for use. All content of the Dow Jones IndexesSM © 2014 is proprietary to Dow Jones & Company, Inc. Chicago Mercantile Association. The market data is the property of Chicago Mercantile Exchange Inc. and its licensors. All rights reserved. FactSet Research Systems Inc. 2014. All rights reserved. Most stock quote data provided by BATS.