Retail sales moved up 1.0% in January, after a revised 3.0% drop in December. The gain in retail sales in January was a surprise. But, the good news does not imply that the weakness in consumer spending is behind us. Unemployment claims numbers were also published in addition to retail sales this morning. Jobless claims remain at elevated levels (see chart 3) and reinforce expectations of a continued gloomy outlook. The bottom line is that consumer spending will be weak again in the first quarter, but by a considerably smaller degree. The weakness in the fourth quarter is most likely the worst performance of retail sales in the current downturn.
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