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Retail sales unexpectedly fell in December, leaving 2009 with the biggest yearly drop on record and highlighting the formidable hurdles facing the economy as it struggles to recover from the deepest recession in seven decades.
Still, many economists, puzzled by the retail sales decline that follows reports from retailers of brighter holidays, cautioned that the December figures don't necessarily signal a big consumer pullback and could be a blip.
In another disappointing economic report, the number of newly laid-off workers requesting unemployment benefits rose more than expected last week as jobs remain scarce.
For the year, sales fell 6.2 percent, the biggest decline on government records that go back to 1992.
The only other year that annual sales fell was in 2008, when they slipped by 0.5 percent.