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US Retail Sales Rise Slightly

A woman walks out of a Macy's department store in Brooklyn, NY, Nov. 12, 2015.

U.S. retail sales rose just 0.1 percent in October, and gained a modest 1.7 percent over the past year.

A report Friday from the Commerce Department says lower gasoline costs helped hold down price increases.

Economists watch retail sales closely because consumer demand drives most U.S. economic activity.

A separate report on inflation showed wholesale prices falling in October for the second month in a row.

The Producer Price Index measures prices charged by farmers, manufacturers and other producers before they reach the consumer. These trends will eventually influence prices paid by consumers.

Prices fell 0.4 percent for the month and were down 1.6 percent over the past year.

The decline complicates the task of the U.S. central bank, where officials have been waiting for inflation to rise to a 2 percent annual rate of increase. Federal Reserve officials say relatively stable, predictable prices help businesses and families plan for the future, which encourages economic growth.

A Wall Street Journal survey of business and economic economists shows the majority of them expect the Fed to raise the key interest rate slightly next month.

The central bank cut interest rates nearly to zero during the financial crisis to make it less expensive for businesses to invest in new equipment, expand operations, and hire new people. It was also hoped that low interest rates would encourage families to buy homes and further stimulate economic growth.

A resumption of growth and drastic decreases in unemployment mean the emergency stimulus provided by record-low interest rates is no longer needed. Higher rates would give the Fed room to once again stimulate the economy to cope with the next downturn.