U.S. retail sales fell in January due to a sharp decline in auto sales while the rest of the sector posted its best performance in some time, according to figures released Thursday by the Commerce Department.

The 0.9% decrease follows a revised increase from 1.3% to 2.0% in December. The overall January decline was driven by a 7.5% drop in sales of new cars, the biggest drop since November 2001.
Excluding autos and parts, retail sales posted a 1.3% increase for January, the best performance since September 2000. This is far better than the 0.2 rise reported for December.
"The message in the January retail trade report is that consumer spending soared," said Newport Communications Senior Economist Jim Haughey. "Excluding auto sales, the increase is four times the expected average monthly pace for gross domestic product growth of about 3%.
"The pattern of changes in the report over the last two months suggests seasonal adjustment or measurement problems," he said. "Every sector that fell sharply in December rose sharply in January. It is likely that December was a little better than now reported and January not as strong as first reported. "
Haughey said this report shifts some spending and the GDP from the current quarter to the previous quarter.
"Total January retail sales were 1.3% higher annually above the fourth-quarter average and this is consistent with earlier expectations that the current quarter GDP growth rate will be near 2.5%," he said.