New US data paint uncertain retail picture

Sales at US retailers grew at a slower pace than expected in January as building material and restaurant outlets experienced weaker trade, new official figures have shown.

A separate dataset also showed another large hike in US import prices in January as energy costs shot up further.

Total retail sales rose 0.3 per cent in January, the US Commerce Department said, in the seventh straight month of growth, but below December’s sales increase, which was revised to 0.5 per cent from 0.6 per cent.

The slight decline is most likely attributed to the snowstorms that battered large areas of the US during January.

Import prices rose 1.5 per cent, almost double economists’ consensus forecast of 0.8 per cent, according to Labor Department data.

Petroleum prices rose 3.4 per cent in January and have risen 18.5 per cent over the past four months. Non-petroleum costs rose 1.1 per cent in January, the largest advance in that category since April 2008.

Export prices rose 1.2 per cent in January, exceeding the consensus forecast of 0.7 per cent. They were led by agricultural export prices, which rose 3.2 per cent.

Economists had expected retail sales to increase 0.6 per cent last month. However, compared to January 2010, sales were up 7.8 per cent.