US consumers resumed buying autos in January and took advantage of mild weather to boost purchases of building materials, pushing up overall retail sales, according to government data released Friday.
Amid a steady job market, American consumers continued their spending across most sectors including autos, groceries and furniture, though gasoline sales did fall amid falling global oil prices.
Total retail sales for December rose 0.3 percent as expected to $529.8 billion, seasonally adjusted, the Commerce Department reported. The gain was the same even when excluding vehicles and parts.
That put total sales up 4.4 percent over January 2019, according to the data.
Sales of building materials and gardening supplies surged by 2.1 percent in January, likely thanks to milder weather that kept away the snowstorms and freezing temperatures in much of the country that usually hampers construction in the winter.
Automotive sales grew 0.2 percent, recovering from the sharp 1.7 percent drop in December, while food services grew 1.2 percent and furniture 0.6 percent.
The clothing sector showed the strains of growing competition from online shopping, contracting by 3.1 percent compared to the prior month and recording no growth compared to January 2019.
Gasoline and personal care items also fell sharply, while online retailers saw a 0.3 percent gain, and are up 8.4 percent over the past year.
"US households started the new decade with cautious enthusiasm as still-solid wage growth and elevated confidence continued to fuel spending in January," Oxford Economics said in an analysis.
But sales could be poised to slow thanks to uncertainty from the novel coronavirus outbreak in China and a predicted slowing of the US economy's expansion.
"With wage growth firmly anchored around three percent and employment growth cooling, consumer spending will continue to gradually cool this year," Oxford Economics said.