WASHINGTON — The U.S. October retail sales data were dismal, as expected, but the pace of decline was more than anticipated, suggesting the economy remains in retreat in the fourth quarter.

October retail sales printed down 2.8%, a record drop since the series was re-set in 1992 to upgrade food sales. Ex-auto sales fell 2.2%, and ex-auto and gas sales fell 0.5%. The latter shows a large part of the drop related to plunging energy prices.

This still is a very poor showing: October marks a fourth consecutive monthly drop in overall sales, the only such string in the last 20 years.

There were a few points of light amid widespread sales drops. Food sales were flat, health care rose 0.4%, and restaurants gained 0.3%.

All other categories were lower, led by a 12.7% decline in gasoline station sales, a 5.5% fall in motor vehicles, and a 2.5% slide in furniture. Retail sales ex-gas are down for a fifth month.

The prior record retreat for overall retail sales was a 2.65% decrease in November 2001 in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Sales fell, then rebounded in October, and fell again in November, something of a seesaw pattern.

The current trend in sales is down, and there is no sign that the series is stabilizing. The minus-2.2% ex-auto sales figure was also a record drop — the prior record was a 1.6% slip in January 2000 during a recession period.

— Market News International

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