RETAIL SALES ROSE IN DECEMBER Consumers spent freely during the holidays: the latest Census Bureau report shows a nice advance for retail purchases. They improved 0.4% last month, with core retail sales up by the same amount.1    PRODUCER PRICES UNEXPECTEDLY RETREAT In December, wholesale inflation declined for the first time in 18 months. Even with that 0.1% dip, the Producer Price Index advanced 2.6% for 2017, compared with 1.7% in 2016. Households contended with 2.1% inflation during 2017 according to the Consumer Price Index, which ticked up 0.1% last month. Core consumer prices rose 0.3% in December, so the