U.S. Retail Sales Under Expectations, Business Inventories Exceed

Economists generally were looking for U.S. retail sales to post seven-tenths of a percentage point gain in February. The actual gain was five-tenths of a percent, the U.S. Department of Commerce reported on March 15. Adjusted for seasonal variations, but not price changes, retail sales totaled $352.1 billion last month.

"Consumer spending showed little sign of slowing in February, leaving GDP growth on track for a solid 4.3% [annual rate] gain in the first quarter and the Fed on track to continue removing monetary stimulus," says Sheryl King, a senior economist at Merrill Lynch & Co., New York. "Retail sales were up 0.5% in February, slightly lower than expectations. However, January was revised up to a 0.3% increase from an originally reported 0.3% drop."

The Commerce Department also reported on March 15 that business inventories, adjusted for seasonal variations but not for price changes, were $1.291 trillion at the end of January, up nine-tenths of a percentage point from December 2004. Economists had expected a lightly smaller eight-tenths of a percent rise.

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