Consumers appear to be pulling back a bit in 1998 after spending strongly in 1997. A slump in auto sales offset a surge at department stores, holding retail spending overall to a tepid 0.1 percent increase in January.
The rise in retail spending, to a seasonally adjusted $214.8 billion, followed a moderate 0.3 percent gain in December and a tiny 0.1 percent advance in November, the Commerce Department said Thursday.
“We are talking about a consumer who has not been a pacesetter these last several months,” said economist Robert Dederick of Northern Trust Co. in Chicago. “The consumer hasn’t been on a tear since the third quarter.”