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CE/Majap Retail Sales Rose 2.6% In January

Washington — January sales at consumer electronics and major appliance stores rose 2.6 percent from December to $8.7 billion but decreased 7.8 percent year over year, according to figures released today by the U.S. Commerce Department.

The figures were adjusted for seasonal variations and holiday and trading-day differences, but not for price changes.

Total retail revenue, including non-general merchandise categories such as autos, gasoline stations and restaurants, increased 1 percent from December and decreased 9 percent year over year.

The National Retail Federation (NRF), the retail industry trade group, attributed the unexpected gains to post-holiday bargain hunting, but warned that business will continue to be difficult over the coming quarters before improving in the final months of the year.

“While 2009 got off to a surprising start, it’s going to be difficult for retailers to maintain this momentum,” said NRF chief economist Rosalind Wells. “We expect the first half of the year to present challenges while giving way to sustained growth in the fourth quarter.”  

Goldman Sachs retail analyst Matthew Fassler noted that declines in CE and appliance sales were beginning to slow, but said in a research note that total retail sales were “still awful,” and well below the prior trough reached in Sept. 2001.

However, weekly sales data reported by the International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC) and Johnson Redbook indicate moderating declines so far in February, he observed, supporting his view that “spending trends are likely to bottom in the second quarter … with declines moderating through the year.”