US retail sales back to annual growth

SALES at US retailers in 2010 reversed two years of contraction and posted the biggest gain in more than a decade, a government report showed.

Retail sales rose 0.6 per cent in December, slightly less than expected, but the growth was still the sixth straight month of growth, the Commerce Department said.

And total sales for the 12 months of 2010 were up 6.65 per cent from the previous year after a 6.5 per cent drop in 2009.

It was the largest 12-month gain in sales since 1999.

“Retail sales disappointed in the all-important trading month of December,” said Chris Williamson, director and chief economist at research firm Markit.

“Weaker than expected sales may have been linked to a weakening of take home pay, with average weekly earnings dropping 0.4 per cent in December.”

In December, sales declines at electronics and general merchandise stores were offset by gains in gasoline and building materials sales. Excluding autos, sales rose 0.5 per cent, below analyst forecasts of an 0.7 per cent increase.

And in separate data, consumer price inflation hit 0.5 per cent in December alone, pushed up by a leap in the price of petrol.

Sharply higher prices at the pump pushed overall consumer prices up at their fastest pace in a year and a half, while core prices, which strip out volatile food and energy costs, barely changed.

Overall consumer prices rose a slightly more-than-expected 0.5 per cent, the US Labour Department report said, while retail prices excluding volatile food and energy costs rose just 0.1 per cent, in line with expectations.

Williamson said the rise reflected “a general global trend whereby commodity prices appear to be feeding through to stronger inflationary pressures than many had anticipated.”

"The slowdown in sales growth and downturn in earnings add support to the argument for maintaining the stimulus, as does the subdued rate of core inflation,” he said.

“The Fed, alongside the ECB and the Bank of England, will no doubt be watching carefully to see if record commodity price rises become further ingrained in inflation expectations in coming months."