Retail sales down in US

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US retail sales in December fell for the first time in eight months despite the traditional Christmas shopping spree - the clearest evidence yet that America's long expected economic slowdown may have started.

The decline was only 0.1 per cent but its impact was reinforced when the Commerce Department slashed its figure for November sales, scaling back its first estimate of 1.2 per cent growth to just 0.2 per cent.