According to the Commerce Department, retail sales increased 1% in January over the prior month. The gain reversed a six-month decline and marked the biggest increase in 14 months.
The January figures were far better than the 0.8% decline that economists surveyed by Thomson Reuters expected.
Sales fell by 3% in December and by 2.4% in November, each revised down by three-tenths of a percentage point.
Retail sales are down 9.7% compared to January 2008, the government's data showed.
Rising gasoline prices boosted sales at gas stations by 2.6% but
had only a small impact on the dollar volume of sales in January. Total
retail sales excluding gasoline rose 0.9%.
The Commerce Department report showed strong increases in sales of
automobiles and in general merchandise stores â” the “big box” outlets â”
though sales by department stores, carrying fewer varieties of items,
posted a small decline. Clothing and accessories stores posted a 1.6%
gain, while electronics and appliances rose 2.6%. Furniture and home
furnishings sales fell 1.3%, while building material sales dropped 3.2%. Sales of autos and parts rose 1.6%.
Nonstore retailers, such as Internet and mail-order shopping, rose 2.7%
in January, while sales of food and beverages rose 2.1%. Health and
personal care stores registered flat sales.
The Commerce Department also said Thursday that inventories fell 1.3%
in December, the
largest cut since October 2001.