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Retail sales see longest decline in 16 years

Glenn Somerville and Lucia Mutikani
Reuters [1]
Friday, December 12, 2008

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Sales at U.S. retailers fell for a fifth straight month in November, the longest decline in at least 16 years, as gasoline sales tumbled by a record amount, according to government data on Friday.

Sales were down a much more modest 0.2 percent once gasoline sales were excluded as spending on other items, such as electronics, increased. But analysts said the consumer clearly was pulling back.

“Although consumers are getting significant relief from lower gasoline prices, at this point they appear to be saving rather than spending the drop in their energy bills,” economists at RDQ Economics said in a note to client.



Falling gasoline prices also helped U.S. consumer sentiment improve this month, as did retail discounts and “tumbling” inflation expectations, but pessimism over the future tempered any enthusiasm, the Reuters/University of Michigan Surveys of Consumers said.

The Commerce Department said total retail sales fell 1.8 percent to a seasonally adjusted $355.66 billion last month following a revised 2.9 percent plunge in October. Excluding motor vehicles and parts, sales were down 1.6 percent in November after a revised 2.4 percent October fall.

Excluding gasoline, retail sales had fallen 1.6 percent in October