Retail sales, which account for about one-third of gross domestic product, have weakened further in July, as most of the tax rebate checks have been distributed and used. Retail sales dropped 0.1% in July, slightly ahead of expectations. Excluding a 2.4% decline in automobile purchases, sales were up 0.4%, the slowest since February. Excluding gas purchases, and that number falls to -0.2%. Economists were expecting a 0.3% decline in total sales and a 0.5% gain ex-auto.

In the past year, retail sales are up 2.6%. Excluding gasoline, sales are up just 0.2%. The figures are not adjusted for price changes.

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Sales at furniture stores rose 1%, the biggest gain in 18 months.

Sales at electronics and appliance stores rose 0.8%.

Sales at hardware and garden stores rose 0.3%.

The higher cost of gasoline was evident not only in the 0.8% rise in sales at gas stations, but also in the 1.1% increase at non-store retailers, such as catalogs and online stores.

Sales at the malls were soft in July. Sales at general merchandise stores rose 0.3%, including a 0.1% increase at department stores. Sales at clothing stores rose 0.2%.

Sales at bars and restaurants fell 0.2%. Sales at food stores rose 0.4%. Sales at health and personal care stores were flat.

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