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By Jamie McGeever
BRASILIA, Feb 12 (Reuters) - Brazilian retail sales unexpectedly fell in December, official figures showed on Wednesday, the first decline in eight months and another sign that consumer spending will not help propel economic growth as much as many had hoped.
Following a below-consensus reading in November that prompted many economists to question their upbeat growth outlook for 2020, retail sales fell 0.1% in December, government statistics agency IGBE said.
That was weaker than the median forecast in a Reuters poll of economists for a 0.2% increase, and was the first monthly decline since April.
On a year-on-year basis, sales rose 2.6% from December 2018, less than the 3.5% predicted in the Reuters poll, while over the course of 2019, sales rose 1.8% from 2018, IBGE said.
That marked the third year in a row of retail sales growth, IBGE said, but it was down from 2.3% growth a year earlier and a 2.1% increase in 2017.
“What’s a bit more alarming is if you look at the wider retail sales figure, which fell even more sharply, mainly due to a decline in auto sales,” said William Jackson, chief emerging market economist at Capital Economics.
“It adds to the sense that the recovery we were seeing last year has come off the boil,” he said.
That wider measure of retail sales showed a fall of 0.8% in December from November, the second monthly fall in a row, IBGE said. Over the course of 2019, this measure of retail sales rose 3.9% from the year before.
The Brazilian real slipped in early trading to an all-time low of 4.3412 reais per dollar after the data’s release.
Economic growth forecasts of up to 2.5% for this year have been lowered towards the 2% mark.
Some economists say soft retail sales and industrial output, a shrinking trade surplus, widening current account deficit and fallout from the coronavirus outbreak are tilting risks to the downside still. (Reporting by Jamie McGeever; Editing by Bernadette Baum)