The number of Americans claiming initial unemployment benefits dropped last week, but remained elevated and retail sales barely rose, suggesting the economy would struggle to regain speed in the second half.

Other data on Thursday showed wholesale inflation ebbed last month for the first time in a year as energy prices fell, which could help to boost consumer spending.

Total retail sales rose 0.1 percent as a rebound in receipts from auto dealers offset the biggest drop in gasoline sales in a year, the Commerce Department said, after a dipping 0.1 percent in May.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast sales slipping 0.1 percent. Sales excluding gasoline rebounded 0.3 percent after declining 0.2 percent in May.

A separate report from the Labor Department showed initial claims for state unemployment benefits fell 22,000 to 405,000 last week, below economists' expectations for a reading of 415,000.

Underlying consumer spending hasn't slowed in three months, but it hasn't gotten any stronger, said Cary Leahey, economist at Decision Economics in New York.

U.S. stock index futures briefly extended gains on the data, and prices for government debt fell slightly.

The reports, coming on the heels of a data showing employers added only 18,000 jobs in June, were a mild boost for the economy, which has struggled to pull out of a soft-patch it hit as the year started.

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said on Wednesday the U.S. central bank, which ended a $600 billion government bond-buying program in June, was ready to ease monetary policy further if growth and inflation slowed much more.

The economy has been hurt by high commodity prices and disruptions to motor vehicle production in the aftermath of the March earthquake in Japan.

The retail sales report suggested that growth in consumer spending in the April-June period would be less than the 2.2 percent annual pace in the first quarter.

But the drop in gasoline prices from their peak just above $4.00 a gallon in May should help to ease the burden on stretched household budgets and support spending in coming months.


Prices received by U.S. producer prices in June posted the steepest decline since February 2010. The Producer Price Index slumped 0.4 percent, the Labor Department said in a second report, twice as fast as expected, following a 0.2 percent rise in May.

Last month, sales at service stations dropped 1.3 percent, the largest decline since June last year, reflecting a 22.5 cents drop in prices at the pump in June.

That decline was mitigated by a 0.8 percent bounce back in motor vehicle sales, indicating an easing in shortages related to supply chain disruptions from Japan. Motor vehicle sales declined 1.8 percent in May.

Excluding autos, retail sales were flat last month, the weakest reading since last July, after rising 0.2 percent in May.

Details of the report were generally mixed, with clothing store receipts rising 0.7 percent last month. Sales at building materials and garden equipment suppliers increased 1.3 percent.

But receipts at sporting goods, hobby, book and music stores fell 0.7 percent, while sales of electronics and appliances dipped 0.2 percent.

Core retail sales -- excluding autos, gasoline and building materials -- edged up 0.1 percent in June after gaining 0.1 percent the prior month.

Core sales correspond most closely with the consumer spending component of the government's gross domestic product report.

(Reporting by Lucia Mutikani and Pedro Nicolaci da Costa; Editing by Neil Stempleman)