Commerce Dept: August Retail Sales Rise on Gas, Auto Costs

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Washington–U.S. retail sales rose a seasonally adjusted 0.9% to $406.7 billion in August as spending rose sharply on autos and gasoline, the U.S. Commerce Department reported Friday.

Excluding autos, which can have an outsized impact on the report, retail sales climbed 0.8% which was in line with economists’ average forecast for a 0.8% increase minus autos.

“You can take some encouragement from this but it’s probably not as strong as the headline number suggests,” said Millan Mulraine, a senior U.S. strategist at TD Securities. “The price of gas will probably make a dent as it diverts from discretionary spending.”

Consumer spending, which accounts for about 70% of the economy, rose at a 1.7% annual rate in the second quarter, the weakest pace since the third quarter of 2011, the Commerce Department data show.

Spending increased across most retail categories but fell 0.1% at clothing and accessories stores, 0.3% at general merchandise stores and 1.4% at electronics and appliance stores. Compared year over year, however, sales at clothing and accessories retailers were up 5.8%.

Gas stations reported a 5.5% increase in sales, the biggest gain since November 2009. That helped push consumer prices 0.6% in August, which, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, came mostly from the increase in the gasoline index.

In a bid to stimulate the economy and reduce unemployment, the Federal Reserve last week said it will continue to buy mortgage debt and hold interest rates low at least through mid-2015.

“This has to go down as a weak report,” said Paul Dales, senior U.S. economist at Capital Economics. “Most of the spending in August was on products that households have to buy, such as gasoline, not items they like to buy, such as new TVs.”

The economy added 96,000 workers in August, fewer than the 130,000 projected by the median forecast of economists. The unemployment rate fell to 8.1% after 368,000 Americans left the workforce. Last week, the number of people filing first-time claims for unemployment benefits rose to their highest in almost two months.

For July, the increase in retail sales was revised down to 0.6% from an initial reading of 0.8%. In the past 12 months, retail sales in the United States have risen 4.7%.


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