“The overall service sector weakened in January, damped by softness at services providers,” according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond service-sector activity survey released yesterday.

“Retail sales were nearly flat for the month, although big-ticket sales remained in decline,” the survey said. “For the first time since December 2007, shopper traffic rose. Merchants’ inventories also increased slightly in January. In contrast to the strengthening at retail establishments, however, revenues at services firms fell this month. Even so, survey respondents overall were upbeat about business prospects for the six months ahead.”

The indexes are the percentage of responding firms reporting an increase, less the percentage reporting a decrease.

Overall, the service sector revenue index remained negative 9 in January, unchanged from December, the number of employees index improved to negative 7 from negative 9, the average wage index held at zero, and the expected product demand during the next six months index gained to 27 from 18.

By sector, the retail area excluding services firms reported the sales revenues index rebounded to positive 1 in January from negative 18 in December. The number of employees index narrowed to negative 8 from negative 16, while the average wages index declined to zero from 4. The inventories index reversed to positive 4 from negative 9 and the big-ticket sales index climbed to negative 20 from negative 31. The shopper traffic index increased to positive 3 from negative 7, while expected product demand during the next six months rose to 37 from 26.

For services firms excluding retail, the revenue index was negative 9, the same as last month, while the number of employees index slipped to negative 6 from negative 3, and the average wage index increased to negative 1 from negative 3 December.

The expected product demand during the next six months index increased to 19 from 14.

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