Retail Sales in U.S. Rose Less Than Forecast in July

Shoppers push carts
Shoppers push carts through the new Target Corp. store in the East Harlem neighborhood of New York. Photographer: Tom Starkweather/Bloomberg

Sales at U.S. retailers rose less than forecast in July, indicating a lack of jobs is prompting Americans to hold back on spending.

The 0.4 percent increase, led by autos and gasoline, followed a revised 0.3 percent drop in June, figures from the Commerce Department in Washington showed today. Economists projected a 0.5 percent gain, according to the median estimate in a Bloomberg News survey. Excluding auto dealers and gasoline stations, purchases fell 0.1 percent.

Retailers may need to step up discounting unless job growth picks up and rekindles consumer spending, which accounts for 70 percent of the economy. Federal Reserve policy makers said this week that the recovery was likely to be “more modest” than earlier anticipated.

“The recovery just isn’t looking that great,” said Julia Coronado, a senior U.S. economist at BNP Paribas in New York. “The job market has lost some positive momentum. This suggests another weak reading on consumer spending in the third quarter.”

Stock-futures maintained losses and Treasury securities rose after the report. Futures on the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index expiring in September declined 0.1 percent to 1,078.2 at 8:51 a.m. in New York. The 10-year Treasury note rose, pushing down the yield to 2.72 percent from 2.74 percent late yesterday.

Consumer Prices

The cost of living in the U.S. rose in July for the first time in four months, figures from the Labor Department showed today. The consumer-price index increased 0.3 percent, the most in a year, while a gauge excluding volatile food and energy costs rose 0.1 percent.

Economists forecast retail sales would rise 0.5 percent following a previously reported 0.5 percent drop for June, according to the median of 77 projections in a Bloomberg News survey. Estimates ranged from a 0.1 percent drop to a 0.9 percent gain.

Excluding autos, sales increased 0.2 percent in July. They were forecast to rise 0.3 percent after a 0.1 percent decrease the prior month, according to a Bloomberg survey median.

A rebound in auto sales, helped in part by incentives, was a source of strength in today’s report. Demand at auto dealers rose 1.6 percent, following a 1.3 percent decrease in June.

“We had an outstanding retail month from a consumer standpoint,” George Pipas, chief U.S. sales analyst for Ford Motor Co., said in an interview Aug. 3 with Bloomberg Television. “Still, it is a fragile situation.”

Most Sales Fell

Excluding autos, sales of building materials, furniture, clothing, appliances and general merchandise all declined.

Gasoline station sales rose 2.3 percent, today’s report showed. The data aren’t adjusted for inflation and the average cost of a gallon of regular gasoline at the pump was little changed at $2.73 in July from the prior month, according to figures from AAA, the nation’s biggest motoring organization.

Excluding autos, gasoline and building materials, which are the figures used in calculating gross domestic product, sales dropped in July after a 0.3 percent rise in June.

Companies added 71,000 jobs in July after a gain of 31,000 the prior month that was smaller than initially estimated, Labor Department figures showed. Total employment fell 131,000, reflecting the dismissal of temporary government workers as the decennial census wound down, the Labor Department reported Aug. 6.

Federal Reserve

The Fed said this week in its policy statement that since its June meeting, “the pace of the recovery in output and employment has slowed. Household spending is increasing gradually, but remains constrained by high unemployment, modest income growth, lower housing wealth and tight credit.”

Central bankers retained their commitment to keep the benchmark interest rate close to zero for an “extended period” and said they will reinvest holdings of agency debt and mortgage-backed securities.

Sales at 30 retail chains climbed 3 percent from a year earlier, less than the 3.2 percent average of analyst projections, Retail Metrics Inc. said last week.

July is typically the slowest month of the third quarter for retailers as they clear out summer merchandise for the back-to-school season, the second-largest sales period after the year-end holidays. Retailers were already offering discounts, with bigger promotions likely coming this month, said Howard Tubin, an analyst at RBC Capital Markets in New York.

Kohl’s Corp. yesterday forecast third-quarter profit excluding some items of 57 cents to 63 cents a share, trailing the average analyst estimate of 74 cents in a Bloomberg survey.

The fourth-largest U.S. department-store company, based in Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin, said same-store sales in its fiscal second quarter rose 4.6 percent from a year earlier. Kohl’s forecast third-quarter sales of 2 percent to 4 percent.

“We do see a cautious consumer, we see one that’s reluctant to spend,” Kevin Mansell, chairman and chief executive officer at Kohl’s, said in a teleconference yesterday.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal. LEARN MORE