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Snow, cold take bite out of retail sales

Major store chains decreased their profit outlooks after posting weaker-than-expected sales after the holidays.
Major store chains decreased their profit outlooks after posting weaker-than-expected sales after the holidays.Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

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WASHINGTON — Cold weather across much of the nation contributed to a drop in retail sales in January. Americans spent less on autos and clothes and at restaurants — a decline that suggests that momentum from consumer spending at the end of 2013 has tailed off.

The Commerce Department said Thursday that retail sales fell a seasonally adjusted 0.4 percent last month. That marked the second straight decline after a 0.1 percent drop in December.

Freezing cold and heavy snowfall raked much of the United States, cutting into store traffic and weighing on post-holiday sales. Major store chains have reduced their profit outlooks, including Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the largest retailer.

‘‘Horrible all round,’’ said Ian Shepherdson, chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics.

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