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 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.
Cars and light trucks sold at a 14.5 million annual rate in August, the industry’s strongest month since 2009, compared with a 14.1 million pace in July, Ward’s Automotive Group data show. Among U.S.-based carmakers, sales rose 10 percent at General Motors Co. and 14 percent at Chrysler Group LLC.
“Economic fundamentals remain modest but stable,” Jenny Lin, a senior U.S. economist at Ford, said during a Sept. 4 conference call. Ford car and light-truck sales rose 13 percent last month, more than estimated. “Consumer confidence is stable as compared to July. The housing sector shows signs of revival.”
Service-station sales, driven by higher gasoline prices, surged 5.5 percent in August, the most since November 2009. The Commerce Department’s figures aren’t adjusted for inflation. Regular-grade gas prices have climbed to an average of $3.87 per gallon, up 54 cents since the start of July, according to AAA, the nation’s largest motoring organization.
Demand at building-material establishments rose 1 percent. Today’s report showed core retail sales, the category used to calculate gross domestic product that excludes sales at auto dealers, building material stores and service stations, decreased 0.1 percent in August after a 0.8 percent rise.
Consumer spending, which accounts for about 70 percent of the economy, rose at a 1.7 percent annual rate in the second quarter, the weakest pace since the third quarter of 2011, Commerce Department data show.
Spending fell 0.1 percent at clothing stores and 0.3 percent at general merchandise stores. Purchases at restaurants and furniture outlets increased.
In a bid to stimulate the economy and reduce unemployment, the Federal Reserve yesterday said it will continue to buy mortgage debt and hold interest rates low at least through mid- 2015.
The economy added 96,000 workers in August, fewer than the 130,000 projected by the median forecast of economists surveyed by Bloomberg. The unemployment rate fell to 8.1 percent 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.
Sales of home products still trying to recover from the recession that ended in June 2009. Industry sales have yet to return to their 2005 peak despite population gains, said Jim Black, chief financial officer of Mattress Firm Holdings Co. in Houston.
“Housing is starting to show some positive signs, but hasn’t rebounded and we haven’t seen consumer sentiment and or unemployment improve to the levels that we have seen pre- recession,” Black said on a Sept. 6 earnings call. “When the election cycle is over and there is less noise about the potential economy, we certainly see that there could be some tailwind in that. And we know that the consumers have been on the sidelines.”