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NRF lowers 2015 retail sales forecast citing slow first half

July 22 (Reuters) - The National Retail Federation, the biggest U.S. retail association, cut its forecast for retail sales growth in the country this year, citing an unexpected slowdown in growth in the first half of the year.

The NRF now expects U.S. retail sales to grow 3.5 percent in 2015, lower than the 4.1 percent growth it forecast in February.

" ... A deflationary retail environment has been especially challenging for retailers' bottom lines," NRF Chief Economist Jack Kleinhenz said in a statement. (http://bit.ly/1IecmqW)

Kleinhenz said the weak first half sales were due to bad weather through most of the winter, the West Coast ports issues, a stronger dollar, weak growth overseas and a fall in energy sector investments.

Households also seemed to be spending more on services than on goods, he said.

NRF said sales grew 2.9 percent during the first half of 2015 and are expected to grow 3.7 percent over the next five months.

NRF's calculations include general retail sales and non-store sales, and exclude automobiles, gas stations and restaurants.

(Reporting by Sruthi Ramakrishnan in Bengaluru; Editing by Savio D'Souza)