Retail sales in U.S. rose 0.9% in August on auto demand

Retail sales in the U.S. increased in August by the most in six months, easing concern about a larger pullback in the biggest part of the economy.

The 0.9 percent gain followed a revised 0.6 percent advance in July that was smaller than initially reported, the Commerce Department said today in Washington. The median forecast of 84 economists surveyed by Bloomberg News called for an increase of 0.8 percent. Demand rose for automobiles and higher gas prices boosted receipts at service stations, while back-to-school sales slowed at department stores.

Higher food and fuel costs along with smaller gains in payrolls and wages may take a toll on household finances, making it challenging for merchants such as Kohl’s Corp. and Macy’s Inc. Labor-market weakness prompted Federal Reserve policy makers yesterday to take another step to spur the three-year expansion.

“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 in New York. “The price of gas will probably make a dent as it diverts from discretionary spending.”

Stock-index futures maintained gains as markets rallied around the world on the Fed’s bond-purchase program. The contract on the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index expiring in December rose 0.3 percent to 1,454 at 9:08 a.m. in New York.

A report from the Labor Department today showed average hourly earnings adjusted for inflation decreased 0.7 percent in August from the previous month, the biggest drop since June 2009. Real wages were unchanged from August 2011.

Consumer Prices

Consumer prices climbed 0.6 percent in August, the most since June 2009, as Americans paid more at the gas pump, the Labor Department also said.

Economists’ estimates in the Bloomberg survey ranged from increases of 0.3 percent to 1.5 percent.

Sales excluding automobiles and gasoline rose 0.1 percent, less than the 0.4 percent gain forecast in the survey. Seven of 13 major categories showed an increase last month.

Purchases increased 1.3 percent at automobile dealers, the most since February, after a 0.1 percent gain the prior month, today’s report showed. Retail purchases excluding autos climbed 0.8 percent, today’s report showed. Economists in the Bloomberg survey projected a gain of 0.7 percent.

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