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July retail sales reflect sluggish economy

WASHINGTON - U.S. retail sales rebounded in July but showed hints of lingering economic softness, as did inflation data showing underlying price pressures stuck at their lowest level since the 1960s.

A busy month for car dealerships and higher gas prices lifted overall retail sales 0.4 percent last month, the Commerce Department said Friday. It was the first overall gain in three months. Still, most retailers reported declines.

Excluding autos, sales advanced just 0.2 percent compared with a median forecast of 0.3 percent. Gasoline station receipts, which sometimes reflect price rises rather than increased demand, jumped 2.3 percent. When autos and gasoline were stripped out, sales actually fell 0.1 percent.

The Consumer Price Index rose 0.3 percent in July, the Labor Department said. But that was mostly because of rising gas prices.

The reports offer the latest evidence that the U.S. economy has slowed considerably in recent months, but were sufficiently firm to dispel, for now, fears of a renewed downturn.

"The numbers are consistent with a sluggish consumer profile," said Jonathan Basile, an economist at Credit Suisse in New York. "Things just don't feel good enough in terms of the level of economic activity and the pace of growth. It reinforces the Fed's [Federal Reserve's] concern."

The Commerce Department also reported business inventories rose for a sixth straight month in June, but sales declined for a second month in a row.- Combined news services

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