Domestic wholesale and retail sales fell a combined 3.7 percent in 2002 to 582.27 trillion yen, declining for the 11th straight year and by the largest margin since 1999, the government said Tuesday.

Retail sales fell 3.9 percent to 130.76 trillion yen for the sixth straight yearly decrease and the largest dip since 1998, and sales by wholesalers were down 3.6 percent to 451.51 trillion yen, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry said in a preliminary report.

The large drop stems from sluggish consumption particularly in the first half of the year, a METI official said.

In the October-December quarter, commercial sales declined 1.6 percent to 149.55 trillion yen, down for the seventh successive quarter. But the margin of decrease was smaller than in the preceding quarters due to robust automobile sales and rising fuel prices.

The relative improvement on a quarterly basis, however, falls short of signaling a recovery in the near future, the official said.

“Sales of automobiles and fuel have been brisk these several months,” he said, “but it is hard to say whether these positive moves will continue down the road.”

Sales by supermarkets and department stores fell 2.1 percent on a same-store basis to 22.04 trillion yen.

In December, overall commercial sales dropped 2.5 percent from the year earlier to 53.95 trillion yen, with retail sales down 3.4 percent to 12.76 trillion yen and sales by wholesalers down 2.2 percent to 41.19 trillion yen.

Retail sales declined for the 21st straight month in December, and wholesale sales fell for the 23rd.

METI maintained its view that retail sales are weakening though positive signs are seen in some areas. That view has been left unchanged since May.

Supermarket sales, which rose in November for the first time since April 1998, fell 3.7 percent on a same-store basis. Department store sales decreased 4.7 percent, down for the fourth straight month.

Convenience store sales fell 1 percent on a same-store basis but rose 3.2 percent on an unadjusted basis.

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