US retail sales dragged down by cheaper gas, fewer auto purchases; sales rise in other areas

Energy Associated Press

U.S. retail sales fell sharply last month as gas prices plummeted and auto sales slowed. But excluding those volatile categories, Americans stepped up their spending a bit.

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The Commerce Department says retail sales dropped 0.8 percent in January, following a 0.9 percent decline in December. The dollar value of gas station sales plunged 9.3 percent, the largest drop in six years. Auto dealer sales also fell for the second straight month.

Outside those categories, sales increased 0.2 percent after a flat reading in December.

The modest gain suggests Americans are still cautious about spending their windfall from lower gas prices, which economists expect will save the typical family $750 this year. Cheaper gas and strong hiring have sent consumer confidence to seven-year highs, a sign spending should pick up soon.