The US economy continues to better expectations, with new retail sales figures from the Commerce Department showing far stronger growth than anticipated.

On the face of it, there was little to smile about: total retail and restaurant sales fell 0.9% in January compared with December. However, the slippage reflects a fall-off in the number of auto sales – a decline that was expected given the phasing out of many of Detroit’s incentive schemes.

Excluding the auto sector, retail sales jumped 1.3% – the sharpest increase since September 2000. Moreover, such gains cannot be explained solely by rising gasoline prices, as without these sales still rose 1.1%.

Rejoiced one analyst: “The fact that overall spending is holding up in the face of equity-market unease, falling confidence and rising war tensions in January suggests that, for now at least, the US consumer is not about to scupper the recovery.”

Data sourced from: The Wall Street Journal Online; additional content by WARC staff