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Dip in auto purchases drive lower-than-expected increase in January retail sales

Feb 18, 2012 Philip Burgess

Retail sales climbed in January, reflecting a general increase in consumer sentiment and wider economic prospects. According to data released Tuesday by the U.S. Commerce Department, retail sales rose by 0.4 percent. The figure was below AP economists' rosy projection of 0.7 percent. Excluding sales of autos, gasoline and building materials, retail sales were up 0.7 percent. Most revenue was driven by electronics, home and garden supplies, sporting goods and restaurant sales. "The retail sales figures from auto dealers and the automakers' sales numbers don't always match up," The Associated Press points out. "Dealers may have also offered discounts in order to bolster sales. Low interest rates, better loan availability and new car models have helped drive sales higher in the last three months." January's decline in vehicle sales stems several months of growth but may be reflective of seasonal trends. Most analysts hold that the U.S. auto industry is continuing a substantial rebound that is likely to continue through this year. The data may also reflect Americans' increasing willingness to incur debt, which may mean banks start easing their credit decisions and lending more.