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A guide to the various consumer spending reports

Thursday's government data on retail sales came from a monthly report issued by the Commerce Department. That report isn't the only reading on how much Americans are spending. Here are various reports that cover such figures:

— INDUSTRY SURVEYS

Surveys by private groups capture the most up-to-date retail spending patterns. But they don't include as many companies as the government reports do. The International Council of Shopping Centers-Goldman Sachs Weekly Chain Store Sales Index tracks sales at stores open at least a year. The index is a proxy for major national stores, including Target Corp, Costco Wholesale Corp. and Macy's.

— RETAIL SALES REPORT

Thursday's Commerce Department report covers sales at all retailers, not just at major national chains. It includes specialty clothing stores, hardware stores, furniture outlets, sporting goods and hobby stores and electronics and appliance stores. It also covers auto dealerships, restaurants and bars, grocery stores and gasoline stations. The sales figures are seasonally adjusted. That way, the current month can be compared with the previous month. But the figures aren't adjusted for inflation.

— CONSUMER SPENDING

This report is also released monthly by the Commerce Department. It's the most inclusive look at consumer activity. It covers all spending at retail establishments — for both durable goods (items such as autos that are expected to last at least three years) and nondurable goods such as food. This report also covers spending on services. Services include items such as doctor's visits, airline and bus tickets, apartment rentals and utility bills. The service category makes up two-thirds of consumer spending and isn't covered in the retail surveys.

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