The Census Bureau said that retail sales increased 0.2 percent in August, the slowest pace of growth since April. Retail spending has risen 4.7 percent over the past 12 months, easing from the 5.7 percent pace observed the month before. Unlike previous months, motor vehicles and gasoline station sales had a more limited impact this time around. Excluding both, retail sales would have increased 0.1 percent.
Sales of motor vehicles and parts rose 0.9 percent in August, rebounding from the 0.5 percent decline in July. (This was revised up from the earlier estimate of a 1.0 percent loss.) The good news is that auto sales have grown 10.9 percent year-over-year, making the motor vehicles segment one of the brighter spots on the retail side. Meanwhile, gasoline station sales were unchanged for the month.
Other business units had mixed retail sales news. Retailers with the largest gains in August included miscellaneous store retailers (up 1.0 percent), furniture and furnishings (up 0.9 percent), electronics and appliances (up 0.8 percent), health and personal care stores (up 0.6 percent), and nonstore retailers (up 0.5 percent). Nonstore retailers had the second-highest year-over-year growth in sales (after autos), up 10.2 percent.
Segments with lower sales included building materials and garden supplies (down 0.9 percent), clothing and accessories (down 0.8 percent), sporting goods and hobby stores (down 0.5 percent), and department stores (down 0.2 percent).
Overall, these data were somewhat disappointing, with consensus forecasts calling for retail spending growth of around 0.4 percent. Nonetheless, it continues a pattern of modest gains in consumer spending, with particular strength among motor vehicle sales.
Chad Moutray is the chief economist, National Association of Manufacturers.