Solid gains in auto sales and online shopping in August spurred another big increase in US retail sales last month, although there were grounds for concern in the government data report on Friday.
A key metric that excludes autos was flat, the weakest showing since February, amid declining sales of home furnishings, gasoline and clothing, the Commerce Department reported.
Still the stronger-than-expected resulted in total sales show the American consumer continues to be the key driver of the economy even amid President Donald Trump’s trade war with China and a weakening manufacturing sector.
Retail sales rose 0.4 percent compared to July to $526.1 billion, better than economists anticipated. And in another surprise the result for July — which analysts said showed exaggerated strength — was revised higher than originally reported.
However, sales excluding autos and parts dealers showed no increase, according to the data.
The gains compared to last year remain solid, with total sales 4.1 percent higher than August 2018 and up 3.5 percent for categories other than autos.
Auto sales jumped 1.8 percent in the month, after a paltry 0.1 percent increase in July, according to the report, putting them 6.8 percent higher than the same month of last year.
Online sales gained 1.6 percent and are up 16 percent from a year earlier.
The major declines in the month included food and drink, which fell 1.2 percent, clothing and gasoline, both down 0.9 percent, and furniture, which dropped 0.5 percent.
Ian Shepherdson of Pantheon Macroeconomics said Friday consumers may have stepped up spending in August to get ahead of anticipated tariff increases announced by the White House.
This could lead to a jump in the third quarter, resulting in a slowdown toward the end of the year, he said in a note to clients.
“For now, the consumer looks strong but the outlook is deteriorating as confidence falters in the face of the tariffs and, over the next few months, slowing job gains,” he said.
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