Weak retail sales suggest moderate fourth-quarter economic growth

Fri Nov 13, 2015 1:21pm EST
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By Lucia Mutikani

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. retail sales rose less than expected in October amid a surprise decline in automobile purchases, suggesting a slowdown in consumer spending that could temper expectations of a strong pickup in fourth-quarter economic growth.

Other data on Friday showed a second straight monthly decline in producer prices as the cost of services fell. Still, the soft inflation and signs of slowing consumer spending are unlikely to deter the Federal Reserve from raising interest rates next month, economists said.

"The weak reports will provide some cause for caution at the Fed, and while they are unlikely to change the prevailing bias for a December 'liftoff,' they could add to the case for a shallower tightening path thereafter," said Millan Mulraine, deputy chief economist at TD Securities in New York

The Commerce Department said retail sales edged up 0.1 percent last month after being unchanged in both September and August. Economists had forecast sales increasing 0.3 percent.

Sales at auto dealerships fell 0.5 percent last month after rising 1.4 percent in September. The decline was surprising given that automakers reported strong sales for October. Economists said heavy discounting to attract buyers was likely to blame for the discrepancy.

A 0.9 percent drop in the value of sales at service stations, which reflected lower gasoline prices, also helped to restrain retail sales last month.

Retail sales excluding automobiles, gasoline, building materials and food services rose 0.2 percent after a 0.1 percent gain in September. These so-called core retail sales correspond most closely with the consumer spending component of gross domestic product.

The lackluster report suggests that savings from cheaper gasoline are being used to pay rents, which have increased substantially over the past year.   Continued...

A shopper checks out at a Walmart store in Secaucus, New Jersey, November 11, 2015. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson