Retail Sales Edge Up Though Consumers Slow Spending in August

NRFWASHINGTON-With consumers continuing their caution about opening their wallets, August U.S. retail sales moved 0.2 percent ahead of July and 4.7 percent ahead of August of last year, to $426.6 billion.

The channels that sell home furnishings presented results that tended toward the negative. General merchandise stores posted declines of 0.2 percent from July and 0.3 percent from last August.

Department stores (excluding leased departments) saw sales increase 0.6 percent over July but drop 5.3 percent versus August 2012. Furniture and home furnishings stores made gains of 0.9 percent month over month and 4.9 percent year over year.

The slowdown in job growth was partly to blame for the tepid overall results, according to followers of this indicator. Jack Kleinhenz, chief economist for the National Retail Federation, termed retail sales and employment “disappointing over the last few months … The data suggest that consumers remain cautious with their pocketbooks and purchases.”

Kathy Bostjancic, director of macroeconomic analysis for The Conference Board, said consumers would likely put spending plans on hold until they see evidence of better and more consistent increases in jobs and incomes—a bad sign for retailers as the holiday shopping season approaches, she added. “Outside of car replacement, there is no sign that spending is picking up any momentum, especially if it entails borrowing,” Bostjancic said.