Consumers, lured to the malls by unusually warm weather and eager to spend their Christmas gift cards, boosted retail sales by a much larger than expected amount in January with sales outside of autos surging at the fastest pace in six years.


The Commerce Department said Tuesday that retail sales excluding autos were up 2.2 percent in January, the best showing in this category since late 1999. With autos included, retail sales rose by 2.3 percent, the best showing in 20 months. Overall retail sales had risen by a tiny 0.4 percent in December.


In a second report Tuesday, the Commerce Department said inventories held by businesses on shelves and backlots rose by 0.7 percent in December, up slightly from a 0.6 percent November increase.


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