Americans increased their buying in January, beating modest expectations for the start of an uncertain year for economic expectations. Retail sales rose 0.2 percent month-over-month, buoyed by auto sales and food services spending, the Commerce Department reported.
The report also revised to a positive 0.2 percent previously disappointing December figures that showed retail sales fell unexpectedly. The original estimate, which showed a 0.1 percent decline, had stoked concerns that the consumer spending segment of the economy, which powers two-thirds of U.S. gross domestic product, had begun to falter at the end of 2015.
Excluding autos, a sometimes volatile section of the retail market, overall January sales rose 0.1 percent. The January figures exceeded expectations from analysts polled by Bloomberg that sales would rise 0.1 percent. The retail sales metric provides a snapshot of spending everywhere from grocery stores and restaurants to electronics retailers to outlets for building materials.
Year-to-year growth in retail spending has softened since a few years ago but remains a relatively solid section of the American economy. Manufacturing declined for the fourth straight month in January, according to the Institute for Supply Management's PMI index, as global macroeconomic fears stung exporters, and the oil and gas industry continued grappling with slumping energy prices.
On a year-to-year basis, retail sales rose 3.4 percent in January. Gasoline retailers, crimped by falling energy prices, saw a 3.1 percent monthly decline in sales. Furniture stores and outlets for sporting goods, books and music also saw declines, the latter notching up a 2.1 percent decline in sales.