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A rise in sales at US clothing retailers along with an improving economy kept January retail sales nearly as good as the holiday season’s strong showing – dropping only 0.26% seasonally adjusted from December – and fuelled a healthy 5.4% increase year-over-year, new figures show.

The January numbers, which exclude automobiles, gasoline stations and restaurants, include a 13.2% rise year-over-year in online and other non-store sales, which were unchanged from December, according to figures from the National Retail Federation (NRF).

Sales at clothing and clothing accessory stores increased 3.1% year-over-year and up 1.2% from December seasonally adjusted, while sporting goods stores showed the only year-over-year decrease, down 5.9% and also down 0.8% from December seasonally adjusted.

The figures follow 5.1% unadjusted year-over-year growth in holiday sales during November and December, which was revised down slightly yesterday (14 February) from the 5.5% initially reported.

December was down 0.1% from November seasonally adjusted but up 3.8% year-over-year. The three-month year-over-year moving average is at 5.2%.

“These numbers reinforce a positive start to 2018 that reflects ongoing consumer optimism brought about by solid economic fundamentals,” says NRF chief economist Jack Kleinhenz said. “Consumer spending continues to grow at a steady pace and is showing year-over-year increases across almost all retail sectors. Employment has increased, labour markets are tightening and wage growth is on the rise. Stock market headlines are a concern for some shoppers, but households have the wherewithal to spend, and the tax cuts consumers are now seeing in their paychecks will bring an added boost.”

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By GlobalData

While some observers are spinning this as a disappointing month, Kleinhenz argues “you’ve got to keep in mind that we’re coming off one of the strongest holiday seasons in years”.

He adds: “It’s also difficult to draw conclusions from month-to-month changes because of the huge seasonal-adjustment factors.”

NRF’s numbers are based on data from the US Census Bureau, which reported this week that overall January sales – including automobiles, gasoline and restaurants – were down 0.3% seasonally adjusted from December but up 5% year-over-year.

The results come as NRF is forecasting that 2018 retail sales will grow between 3.8% and 4.4% over 2017.

US retail sales set to grow up to 4.4% this year