Retail Sales Up 0.4 Percent in August

Retail sales rose in August by 0.4 percent, a one-tenth percent uptick from the previous month, but comfort for retailers worried about a possible double-dip recession.

While retail sales overall rose one-tenth percent from the previous month, which was revised downward after also briefly showing a 0.4 percent gain, the number reported by the Commerce Department is the best since March.

The gains came in spite of a marked decline in auto sales, which took a 0.7 percent drop from July. Still, the 0.6 percent rise in retail sales besides autos is double what economists had expected.

The strength came in a number of areas from department stores to clothing stores and sporting goods outlets. 

The numbers also reinforce a study by CIT Group Inc., a small-business lender, which said retailers and suppliers are optimistic that consumer spending will pick up in 2011.

"While the majority of retailers are cautiously optimistic about their future, more than two-thirds expect revenues to grow over the next 12 months," said Burt Feinberg, managing director and industry group head of retail finance at CIT. "The general consensus is that, having weathered the economic downturn, most retailers are in better shape today than in 2009 and have positioned themselves well to meet future consumer demand when it returns."

Receipts at gasoline stations increased 1.9 percent. Building materials and garden equipment sales were unchanged after a 0.4 percent drop in July. Clothing and clothing accessories sales rose 1.2 percent. Sporting goods, hobby and book stores saw a 0.9 percent hike in August though electronics and appliance store purchases fell 1.1 percent.