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NRF: Shoppers took a step back from spending in August

American shoppers reined in their spending in August, but just a bit.

Retail sales inched up 0.1% in August over July and 5% year-over-year as the economy continued to grow despite concerns about the growing trade war, the National Retail Federation reported. (The numbers exclude automobiles, gasoline stations and restaurants.).

The August gain was the smallest increase in six months. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast retail sales increasing 0.4% in August.

“Consumers are still in the driver’s seat,” NRF chief economist Jack Kleinhenz said. “Clearly, household spending is resilient and a contributor to third-quarter GDP growth, however, uncertainty over tariffs is creating anxiety and could fuel material changes in consumer spending.”

NRF’s numbers are based on data from the U.S. Census Bureau, which released overall August sales – including automobiles, gasoline and restaurants – that were down 0.1% seasonally adjusted from July but up 6.6% year-over-year.

Specifics from key retail sectors for August include:

  • Online and other non-store sales were up 9.3% year-over-year and up .7% over July seasonally adjusted.

  • Clothing and clothing accessory stores were up 6.2% year-over-year but down 1.7% from July seasonally adjusted.

  • Health and personal care stores were up 5.4% year-over-year and up 0.5% from July seasonally adjusted.

  • Food and beverage stores were up 4.9% year-over-year and zero change from July seasonally adjusted.

  • General merchandise stores were up 4.6% year-over-year and up 0.1% from July seasonally adjusted.

  • Electronics and appliance stores were up 4.1% year-over-year and up 0.4% from July seasonally adjusted.

  • Furniture and home furnishings stores were up 3.9% year-over-year but down 0.3% from July seasonally adjusted.

  • Building materials and garden supply stores were up 2.6% year-over-year and zero change from July seasonally adjusted.

  • Sporting goods stores were down 4.0% year-over-year and up 0.2% from July seasonally adjusted.

The three-month moving average was also up 4.9% over the same period a year ago. The August results build on improvement seen in July, which was up 0.4% monthly from June and 4.9% year-over-year.
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