WASHINGTON — Retail sales rose a stronger-than-expected 0.5% in January after a 1.2% increase in December, the government said today.
Excluding the volatile category of autos, the Commerce Department said sales were up 0.2% last month after rising 0.9% in December.
Economists had expected little if any change in overall retail sales. They had eagerly awaited the figures for clues to the extent of the slowdown in consumer spending that set in after October's stock market crash.
Personal consumer spending last quarter registered its steepest decline since 1980.
Because consumption accounts for about two-thirds of the total output of goods and services in America, protracted weakness could tip the economy into an election-year recession.