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Retail Sales Pace Losing Momentum

Thu., Oct. 16, 1997, midnight

Retail sales increased at a slower pace in September, held back by a slump at department stores and clothing shops. The performance foreshadows decent but not spectacular Christmas sales, economists say.

Sales rose 0.3 percent to a seasonally adjusted $215.5 billion, the Commerce Department said Wednesday. It was the fourth consecutive increase after three straight drops from March through May. But the September gain was just half the 0.6 percent advance in August, which in turn was half the 1.2 percent spurt in July.

In other details from September’s report, the Commerce Department said auto sales rose 0.6 percent, the fourth consecutive advance but not nearly as strong as increases in the previous three months. Furniture dealers reported a 0.6 percent increase, the sixth month without a decline.

Sales fell 0.5 percent, the second consecutive drop, at hardware stores, garden centers and building supply outlets. They rose 1.4 percent at food stores, only the second gain in six months. Sales also increased at drug stores and gas stations but fell at restaurants and bars.

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