Auto sales spur January's gains at U.S. retailers

Posted on February 15, 2012

Sales at U.S. retailers probably increased in January by the most in four months, spurred by the biggest gain in auto purchases since 2009, economists said before a report due out this week.

The projected 0.8% gain in retail receipts would follow a 0.1% advance in December, according to the median forecast of 65 economists surveyed by Bloomberg News before Commerce Department figures on Tuesday. Industrial production jumped and the cost of living increased in January, other data may show.

The drop in unemployment to a three-year low is evidence of an improving job market that’s essential to sustaining purchases, which account for about 70% of the world’s largest economy.

“As we’ve seen further gains in labor market activity, that should lead to further gains in spending,” said Millan Mulraine, a senior U.S. strategist at TD Securities in New York. “It’s hard to argue against the case that the U.S. economy is gaining momentum.”

Employers added 1 million workers to payrolls over the past six months, according to Labor Department data.

During that same period, the unemployment rate dropped by 0.8 percentage point.

Retail sales at stores open more than a year, excluding Wal-Mart Stores, increased 4.8% in January, compared with a 3.5% advance in December, the International Council of Shopping Centers said in a Feb. 2 statement.