Retail sales climbed 1.3% in August, the biggest increase in six months, but economists said Tuesday that strong auto sales fueled by discounts mask lackluster growth or declines in other areas.
The Commerce Department said retail establishments sold $128.6 billion worth of goods in August, up $1.6 billion from the July sales level after adjusting for seasonal variations but not for inflation.
It was the biggest monthly sales increase since a 4.8% jump last February and it followed revised increases of 0.5% in July and 1.2% in June.
"The report looks very good. The increase of 1.3% is strong. That's an annual rate of 15-16%," Commerce Undersecretary Robert Ortner said. However, he added, "the report looks better than the underlying tone really is. That's because the gain was concentrated in the automotive sector."
Excluding autos, retail sales rose a much more modest 0.3% in August, down slightly from the 0.5% gain in July.