WASHINGTON — Americans barely spent more last month at retail businesses and restaurants after higher taxes cut their paychecks. The small increase suggests consumer spending may be weak in the January-March quarter, which could hold back US economic growth.
Retail sales ticked up 0.1 percent in January from December, the Commerce Department said Wednesday. That follows a 0.5 percent increase in December and is the smallest in three months.
Sales fell at auto dealerships, clothing stores, and furniture stores. The declines came after big gains in those categories in December. Sales rose at home-improvement stores, gas stations, and online retailers last month.
So-called core retail sales, which exclude autos, building materials, and gas stations, ticked up 0.2 percent. That was down from 0.6 percent in December. Economists pay close attention to core sales because they strip out the most volatile categories.
The retail sales report is the first look at consumer spending, which drives 70 percent of economic activity.
Nearly all working Americans are taking home less pay this year. Congress and the White House allowed a temporary 2 percentage point cut in Social Security taxes to expire last month.