Total retail sales edged downward by a marginal 0.2% in January, reported the US Department of Commerce on Wednesday, bettering gloomy market expectations.

In fact, if the 4.3% slump in auto sales is excluded from the data, retail sales actually rose by 1.2% – the largest monthly increase since March 2000. The data was accordingly hailed as another sign that America’s recession has bottomed-out, marginally lifting the Dow Jone index and boosting the dollar against the euro and the British pound.

Contributing to the brighter picture were higher oil prices (resulting in increased consumer spend at the gas pumps), clothing sales (up 2.5%) and furniture (+0.4%).

Even the entrail-rakers’ mouths twitched slightly at the corners, prompting Merrill Lynch economist Stan Shipley to declare: “The New Year got off to a roaring start.”

Data sourced from: BBC Online Business News (UK); additional content by WARC staff