Consumers continued to give the U.S. economy a modest boost in September, but there were signs that shoppers slowed their spending toward the end of summer.
Retail sales climbed 0.1 percent last month, the Commerce Department said Wednesday. But stripping out the volatile motor vehicle and parts sector, retail sales actually fell 0.3 percent. August retail sales were revised down to virtually unchanged.
However, shoppers have shown an overall willingness to spend for the past half-year, and retail experts said that bodes well for the prime shopping months at the end of the year. The National Retail Federation this month predicted that year-end-shopping-season sales would increase 3.7 percent over 2014, with retailers hauling in nearly 20 percent of their annual revenue during that period.
“With several months of solid retail sales behind us, we’re heading into the all-important (year-end shopping) season fully expecting to see healthy growth,” Matthew Shay, the federation’s chief executive, said in a statement.
A year of lower gas prices has finally pushed consumers to spend some of their savings on discretionary items instead of paying down debt, retail analysts said. That is despite signs that an economic slowdown in China was beginning to hurt the U.S. economy, including disappointing job growth in September.
Consumer spending could be depressed if the government fails to avert a shutdown in December, or if job creation continues to slow down, experts said. That would push retailers to aggressively compete on prices, as they have done for years now.
Motor vehicle and parts dealers showed the biggest gain, with a 1.7 percent increase. Furniture stores reported a 0.6 percent rise. Clothing and accessories stores, boosted by back-to-school shopping, climbed 0.9 percent.
Seven categories showed a decline in September. Falling prices at the pump pushed gas-station sales down 3.2 percent. Electronics and appliance shops fell 0.2 percent. Food stores showed a 0.3 percent decline.