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Retail sales softened in January, falling by 0.4%. A flat reading had been the forecast. Actually, the entire decline was caused by a 2.1% plunge in car sales. Excluding that component, which likely was affected mightily by the weather, the so-called core retail sales category showed no change for the month.

Among the major components in this report, we saw that furniture and home furnishings volume dipped by 0.6% in the month, relative to December. Also lower were sales at health and personal care stores and at clothing and clothing accessories outlets. Sporting good and hobby retailers, along with department stores, saw lighter volume, too.

On the other hand, gains were recorded at electronics and appliance dealers, gasoline stations (presumably due to higher prices), and at building materials, garden equipment, and supplies providers. We would assume that greater purchases of snow shovels and other winter equipment were factors in this latter arena. 

Our sense is that the weather remains a decisive factor in the poor showing not only in this area, but across much of the rest of the economy, as well. The cold and heavy snows, especially in areas not used to such disruptions, have had a material effect on this quarter's aggregate performance, and we think will take a slice out of the full period's overall growth, which may not exceed 2% by very much. It could even dip below that level should weather continue to be a big factor over the balance of the quarter.

As for the past year, retail sales were up by 2.6% during that stretch. Non-store retailers, that is sales over the Internet, were up 6.5%, continuing the trend of outsized increases over more established methods of shopping. Interestingly, non-store volume actually dipped last month, following a 1.3% advance in December.

At the time of this article's writing, the author did not have positions in any of the companies mentioned.