Spending at US retailers continued to grow last month, a fresh sign that American shoppers aren’t tapping out just yet.
Retail sales, which are adjusted for seasonality but not inflation, grew 0.7% in September from the prior month. That’s slightly below August’s revised 0.8% gain and marks the sixth-straight month of growth.
Spending grew across most categories last month, with sales at specialty stores advancing the most, by 3%. Online sales and car purchases also grew at a strong clip, both rising 1.1% in September from August. The two weakest sales categories last month were clothing and electronics, declining 0.8% during the same period.
“With employment high, wages outpacing inflation, and recession talk quieter, consumer spending is growing and propelling the economy forward,” wrote BIll Adams, chief economist at Comerica Bank, in analyst note. “But growth will likely be slower in the fourth quarter, with headwinds from the restart of student loan payments, the UAW and actors’ strikes, and tail risks from the Israel-Hamas war and a possible government shutdown.”
Compared to August, higher gas prices had a much lesser effect on retail spending in September. Excluding sales at gasoline stations, retail sales still advanced 0.7% last month. Adams said the US Energy Information Administration “reported a jump in gasoline inventories in the last several weeks, consistent with a seasonally adjusted drop in volumes sold.”
Still, a respite from higher energy prices remains at risk if an escalation of the conflict between Israel and Hamas destabilizes the oil-rich Middle East, further tightening oil supply. That would inflict more pain at the pump, pushing up inflation and eroding Americans’ spending power.
This story is developing and will be updated.