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First Cut: January retail sales chilly overall, but decent excluding motor vehicles

Retail and food service sales in January nudged up 0.2% after down 1.6% in December (previously down 1.2%). Excluding motor vehicles, sales were up 0.9% in January after down 2.1% in December (previously down 1.8%). Clearly the 2.6% decline for motor vehicles and parts restrained the total. More than offsetting the decrease were strong sales for building materials (up 3.3%), sporting goods (up 4.8%), nonstore retailers (up 2.6%), health and personal care (up 1.6%), and food and beverage stores (up 1.1%).

Gasoline service stations sales declined 2.0% in January. It probably reflects that the seasonal anticipated a larger rise in prices than occurred.

“Core” retail sales – sales excluding motor vehicles, building materials, and gasoline – was up 1.0% in January, a modest rise but one that suggests consumer spending off to a decent start in 2019.

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