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Consumer spending advances modestly in January

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By The Staff

NEW YORK (AP) — Americans backed off from holiday spending in January, but retail sales rose for a third month in a row compared with a year earlier, largely because of gas price hikes, according to figures released Wednesday by a key data service.

Including goods from food to clothing to gasoline — but excluding cars — U.S. retail sales rose 3.6 percent from January 2009, according to MasterCard Advisor's SpendingPulse, which offer an estimate of spending in all forms including cash.

That increase followed a 4.8 percent gain in December and a 2.1 percent gain in November, according to SpendingPulse.

Excluding both gas and auto sales, retail sales rose 0.3 percent in January, 2.1 percent in December and 0.2 percent in November compared with a year earlier. The year-over-year figures are not seasonally adjusted.

"It is a modest pace of spending," said Kamalesh Rao, director of economic research for MasterCard Advisors' SpendingPulse. "Consumers are not going back to their caves, but they are not spending aggressively either."

With consumer spending — including major items like health care — accounting for 70 percent of U.S. economic activity, according to the government, economists watch it closely for clues on what lies ahead.


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