WASHINGTON (CN) - Retail and food sales hit a higher-than-expected $356 billion in January, the Commerce Department announced Friday. "It is reassuring that retail sales continued to expand at the start of the year," Commerce Secretary Gary Locke said.
The estimated half-percent increase in retail sales in January is larger than the expected 0.3 percent increase, according to advance estimates.
Retail sales have grown by more than 5 percent since January of last year, and the climb has quickened over the last half-hear, rising at an annual rate of 6.4 percent during the third quarter of 2009, then by an annual rate of 7.6 percent last quarter.
Economists say that such consumption is needed to tackle unemployment, which edged down to 9.7 percent in January, from 10 percent in December.
The January sales increases follow a 5.7 percent expansion of the economy during the fourth quarter of 2009, driven more than half from companies' buying to refill their inventories.
The October-December growth was the strongest in six years.
In a telephone interview last month, Joe Minarik, research director for the Committee on Economic Development, said increases in inventory were a good sign, but job growth lies in whether final consumer demand will keep up store inventory purchases.
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