Back-to-school shopping boosts August retail sales

The Commerce Department released retail sales figures for August.

The Commerce Department released retail sales figures for August.

(Jay L. Clenenin / Los Angeles Times)

Consumer spending rose modestly in August as shoppers opened their wallets for back-to-school shopping.

U.S. retail sales climbed 0.2% last month from July, the Commerce Department reported Tuesday. July sales were also revised slightly higher to 0.7%, from a previous estimate of 0.6%.

The spending boost last month is a good sign for the upcoming holiday season, analysts said. It indicates that consumers are relatively unfazed by the recent stock market turmoil and by worries that many economies around the world are slowing down.

This week Federal Reserve policymakers are meeting and could decide to raise the benchmark interest rate. But modest job growth in August and rollicking global financial markets may convince the Fed to delay an increase.


Retail sales are considered a bellwether of consumer spending, which makes up two-thirds of U.S. economic activity.

Industry analysts say consumer spending has been boosted by lower gas prices and wage gains. Last month, average hourly earnings climbed 8 cents to $25.09, the biggest gain since January. That followed a July increase of 6 cents.

Stripping away motor vehicle and parts receipts, retail sales increased 0.1%. Several sectors showed gains in August.

Back-to-school shopping pushed up clothing and accessories by 0.4%. Sales at health and personal care stores rose 0.8%, and general merchandise stores reported a 0.4% increase.

Falling prices at the pump pushed gasoline station sales down 1.8%. Furniture stores saw sales slip 0.9%.

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