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US Retail Sales Drop in January

One important gauge of U.S. economic activity, retail sales, declined three-tenths of one percent in January.

Tuesday's Commerce Department report said the fall was due to a sharp drop in automobile sales. Auto sales swing widely from month to month.

Experts say that setting those figures aside can give a clearer picture of the underlying economic trend. Excluding auto sales, retail sales rose six-tenths of one percent in January.

Economists track retail sales because they give important clues about consumer demand, which drives about two-thirds of all U.S. economic activity.

We will learn more about the world's largest economy on Wednesday, when U.S. Federal Reserve (central bank) Chairman Alan Greenspan is due to give his semi-annual report to Congress.

Some information for this report provided by Bloomberg, AP, AFP and Reuters.