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CE-Majap Dealer Sales Slipped 1.6% In January

Washington — January sales for consumer electronics and major appliance dealers fell 1.6 percent year-over-year to $9.3 billion, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce’s monthly retail sales report released today.

The Commerce Department also restated the specialty retailers’ December sales, from 2.1 percent growth year-over-year as originally reported to a decline of 0.1 percent to $9.4 billion.

Consequently, on a monthly basis CE and majap dealer sales fell 3.2 percent in December from November, and slipped another 1 percent in January from December.

Total retail sales, including automobiles, gasoline and restaurants, rose nearly 3.9 percent year-over-year, the Commerce Department said.

According to National Retail Federation (NRF), the leading retail trade group, the sales figures show that consumers were focused on buying necessities more than discretionary items. “The January numbers are indicative of the issues consumers are facing, including the housing slump, a sluggish employment sector and high energy prices,” said NRF chief economist Rosalind Wells.

The sentiment was echoed last week by Wal-Mart, which found that its customers were holding onto gift cards longer and were redeeming them for food and other consumables.

Goldman Sachs retail analyst Matthew Fassler foresees a tough slog for the balance of the year. “We expect continued challenges for retail sales through the rest of 2008,” he wrote in a research note, “as a tough housing market and spillover to the broader economy, i.e. lower income growth, continue to crimp consumers’ wallets.”

NRF’s Wells was equally pessimistic, expecting only “marginal improvements” in the back half of the year once consumers begin to receive their government rebate checks.