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Economy teeters as jobless claims rise and retail sales drop

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By The Staff

WASHINGTON (AP) — Retail sales fell in December, leaving 2009 with the biggest yearly drop on record and highlighting the formidable hurdles facing the economy as it struggles to recover from the deepest recession in seven decades.

In another disappointing economic report, the number of newly laid-off workers requesting unemployment benefits rose last week as jobs remain scarce.

Economists said the drop in retail sales in December underscored how tentative the economic picture remains given all the headwinds facing consumers.

"We cannot expect a true turnaround in consumption until the jobs numbers improve significantly and consistently," Jennifer Lee, a senior economist at BMO Capital Markets, said in a research note.

The Commerce Department said Thursday that retail sales declined 0.3 percent in December compared with November, much weaker than the 0.5 percent rise that economists had been expecting. Excluding autos, sales dropped by 0.2 percent, also weaker than the 0.3 percent rise analyst had forecast.

For the year, sales fell 6.2 percent, the biggest decline on government records that go back to 1992. The only other year that annual sales fell was in 2008, when they slipped by 0.5 percent.


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