January sales at US retailers edged up for the seventh month in a row according to figures released yesterday (15 February), suggesting that consumers are slowly getting more comfortable spending again but continue to remain cautious.

Data from the Commerce Department showed retail sales were up 0.3% from December to January, and were 7.1% higher than the year before. Stripping out the impact of automobiles, gas stations and restaurants, January sales were 0.2% higher than December and 3.5% above last year.

Spending at clothing and clothing accessory stores fell 0.3% over last month but increased 1.8% year-on-year.

“In spite of the economic uncertainties that still exist, consumers are clearly demonstrating their desire to spend on discretionary items once again,” said Matthew Shay, president and CEO of the National Retail Federation (NRF).

“The industry is certainly benefiting from the renewed confidence we’re seeing in shoppers, although sustained growth in 2011 will largely rely on improvement in key economic indicators like employment and housing.”

NRF chief economist Jack Kleinhenz added: “Many factors, including stock market gains, tax cuts, income growth and savings built up during the recession are contributing to the recent spur in consumer spending.”