Weak U.S. data deluge points to sharply slower growth

Fri Jan 15, 2016 3:20pm EST
 
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By Lucia Mutikani

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. retail sales fell in December as unseasonably warm weather undercut purchases of winter apparel and cheaper gasoline weighed on receipts at service stations, the latest indication that economic growth braked sharply in the fourth quarter.

The growth picture was further darkened by other data on Friday showing industrial production fell in December, dragged down by cutbacks in utilities and mining output. Business inventories were also weak, posting their biggest drop in just over four years in November.

Signs the economy has hit a soft patch - together with weak inflation, a stock market sell-off and faltering global growth - raises doubts on whether the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates again in March. The Fed lifted its benchmark overnight interest rate from near zero last month, the first rate hike in nearly a decade.

"The economy got hit from all sides in December. If these weak data keep going into 2016, the outlook is going to grow even dimmer given the recent financial market turbulence and the fears over what a slowdown in China means for the rest of the world," said Chris Rupkey, chief economist at MUFG Union Bank in New York.

The Commerce Department said retail sales slipped 0.1 percent after increasing 0.4 percent in November. For all of 2015, retail sales rose just 2.1 percent, the weakest reading since 2009, after advancing 3.9 percent in 2014.

Retail sales excluding automobiles, gasoline, building materials and food services fell 0.3 percent after a 0.5 percent gain the prior month. These so-called core retail sales correspond most closely with the consumer spending component of gross domestic product.

Though another report from the University of Michigan showed its consumer sentiment index rose to 93.3 early this month from a reading of 92.6 in December, households were less upbeat about current conditions, reflecting the recent equity market turmoil.

Friday's reports joined weak data on construction, manufacturing and export growth in suggesting that growth slowed abruptly in the final three months of 2015. They could raise fears that the malaise from manufacturing and export-oriented sectors was filtering to the rest of the economy.   Continued...

 
A shopper walks by the sodas aisle at a grocery store in Los Angeles April 7, 2011.   REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni