Washington - January sales for CE and appliance retailers edged down 0.6 percent year-over-year to $8.2 billion, according to the latest monthly tallies from the U.S. Commerce Department.
January sales were also flat from December, rising 0.5 percent month-over-month, preliminary estimates show.
By comparison, sales for online and other direct-to-consumer merchants rose 4.9 percent over January 2011, while total retail sales, excluding automotive but including restaurants, increased 5.5 percent.
Matthew Shay, president/CEO of the National Retail Federation (NRF), an industry trade group, attributed January's generally solid sales to "millions of shoppers with gift cards burning holes in their pockets," along with unseasonably warm weather. He noted that January is a traditionally slower sales month for retailers.
But NRF chief economist Jack Kleinhenz warned that "Consumer spending alone will not be enough to sustain economic growth or provide a strong foundation for consistent retail sales and growth. We must see improvements in key economic indicators, such as housing and employment."
Based on the Commerce Department's reported 8 percent gain in January sales for the home improvement channel, a housing recovery may already be percolating, argued Credit Suisse retail analyst Gary Balter. "We believe that momentum reflects modestly improving housing fundamentals, which [are] lifting demand across the segment," he wrote in a research note.