Retail sales in January expanded to their highest level in about eight years as cold weather boosted consumer spending for winter clothing, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry said Monday in a preliminary report.

Retail sales rose a seasonally adjusted 2.2 percent in the reporting month from the previous year to 10.65 trillion yen, the largest growth since retail sales jumped 12.4 percent in March 1997 ahead of a consumption tax increase.

Retail sales fell 1 percent in December.

Sales by wholesalers increased 3.4 percent to 30.17 trillion yen for the eighth straight month of year-on-year rise, and combined wholesale and retail sales gained 3.1 percent to 40.82 trillion yen, also up for the eighth straight month, METI said.

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