Consumers bought more from retailers for a seventh straight month in January. But snowstorms limited the spending gains expected from workers with more money in their paychecks from a Social Security tax cut.
Retail sales rose 0.3 percent last month to $318.6 billion, the Commerce Department said Tuesday. Demand rose at department stores, electronic stores and auto dealerships. Sales have risen more than 14 percent from the recession low in December 2008.
Americans spent less at restaurants and on clothing while paying higher prices for gas. Stuart Hoffman, an economist at PNC Financial, said harsh weather played a role in limiting the sales gains. But he said he remained optimistic that sales will continue to rise and fuel the economy in the coming months.
"There is a huge amount of pent-up demand waiting to be unleashed," Hoffman said. "The only missing ingredient for a sustained consumer rally is job creation."
Auto sales rose 0.5 percent last month after having increased 1.5 percent in December. Excluding autos, retail sales increased 0.3 percent, matching the December increase.
Sales at department stores gained 0.5 percent. A broader general merchandise category, which includes big retail chains such as Wal-Mart, surged 0.8 percent.
Part of the overall retail sales gain reflected higher gasoline prices. Sales at gasoline service stations climbed 1.4 percent. Excluding the rise at gas stations, retail sales would have risen 0.2 percent last month.
Sales weakened at specialty clothing stores, furniture stores and hardware stores but increased at health care stores and food stores. The increase in grocery store sales was likely aided by rising food prices.
A separate report Tuesday pointed to further strength in manufacturing, a consistently strong sector in recent months. The Empire State Manufacturing Survey showed that conditions for New York manufacturers are improving. The survey's index of business conditions rose to an eight-month high.
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