Consumer confidence in U.S. falls to 8-month low

Auto Sales

AutoNation Inc., the largest U.S. retailer of new cars and trucks, is among companies saying business is starting to rebound after the fiscal impasse in Congress slowed sales.

“We did feel the government shutdown impact,” Mike Jackson, chairman and chief executive officer of Fort Lauderdale, Florida-based AutoNation, told Betty Liu on Bloomberg Television’s “Surveillance.” “It was definitely a pause in the intensity of sales starting sometime in the middle of September and it continued until the shutdown was finally resolved,” he said. “Now we see the pace resuming. Until then, the quarter had been extremely strong.”

Record demand for American-made automobiles also helped the nation’s trade deficit stabilize in August, figures from the Commerce Department showed today. The gap increased 0.4% to $38.8 billion from $38.6 billion in July.

Exports fell 0.1% to $189.2 billion as an all-time high in foreign purchases of U.S. autos and parts was offset by a plunge in demand for industrial supplies, such as petroleum products and chemicals, the Commerce data showed.

Fuel Costs

A drop in fuel costs is among the things helping to bolster consumers in the face of the gridlock in Washington. The average cost of a gallon of regular-grade gasoline fell to $3.34 on Oct. 22, the lowest since Jan. 24, according to data from AAA, the nation’s largest motoring group. Since the end of August, prices have eased by about 25 cents per gallon of fuel.

Nonetheless, some companies are saying customers are more hesitant ahead of the holiday-shopping season that begins next month as Americans continue to grapple with government infighting, budget cuts and an increase in the payroll tax.

“We’ve seen an overall slowdown, a little bit of softness in our traffic,” David Lenhardt, chief executive officer of PetSmart Inc., a Phoenix-based retailer of pet supplies, said on an Oct. 17 earnings call. “We do think it’s an uncertain consumer environment. I think whether it be the shutdown, whether it be payroll tax, whether it be sequester, the customer is more uncertain these days.”

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