First rise in US retail sales for seven months

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The Independent Online

US retail sales climbed for the first time in seven months in January, providing a ray of light amid the gloom of a recession that continues to claim hundreds of thousands of jobs.

The month-on-month improvements came across the board, with electronics stores and internet retailers showing the biggest gains, although even cars and car parts rose modestly.

Economists reacted with caution to the figures, though, pointing out that they showed a rebound from very depressed pre-Christmas sales. In fact, earlier estimates for November and December sales were revised downward. The level of retail sales in January was 9.7 per cent lower than the same month in 2008.

"The net rise in sales is less impressive than it looks," said Ian Shepherdson, chief US economist at High Frequency Economics. "The headline relief today is welcome but it is unlikely to last."

The employment picture continues to darken. The number of new jobless benefit claims dropped to a seasonally-adjusted 623,000 last week, from an upwardly revised figure of 631,000 for the previous seven days, but the latest tally still was above analysts' expectations. The number of people claiming benefits for more than one week rose to 4.81 million from 4.78 million, the highest total since records began in 1967.