BLUE CHRISTMAS?

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In what could be a warning sign to retailers and manufacturers that do most of their business between now and Christmas, the government announced that retail sales were down 0.2 percent in October, the first decline in three months. The decline was buffeted somewhat by a sharp rebound in new car sales as automakers rolled out their 1996 models. Excluding autos, sales were down 0.5 percent last month. Hardest hit: department and clothing stores, a troubling sign of a potentially sluggish holiday season for retailers.