Chain store sales in the week ended 1 February are down 0.9 per cent according to a report released yesterday, as US consumers stayed at home to watch non-stop television coverage of the Columbia space shuttle disaster.

According to Reuters, a joint report filed by the Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi and UBS Warburg said a 2.7 per cent sales rise over the same week a year ago was offset by slower traffic and sales - especially on Saturday when the space shuttle broke up in flight.

January is traditionally a slow month for retailers, marked by clearance sales to make room for spring clothing.