SALES FALL: Retail sales fell 0.3 percent in October, the first drop after three months of gains. Superstorm Sandy combined with cautious consumers to lower sales.

SANDY IMPACT: The storm depressed car sales and slowed business in the Northeast at the end of the month. If sales rebound, that would suggest the October decline was a temporary lull exacerbated by the storm.

FEARING THE FISCAL CLIFF: Ongoing weakness would show that consumers are scaling back, perhaps because of concerns that their taxes will increase next year if the economy goes over the fiscal cliff.

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