Final Sept retail sales rise 0.3 pct


U.S. retail sales rose in September as lower gasoline prices and a soaring stock market bolstered consumer spending, according to final data by SpendingPulse on Monday.

Americans splurged on clothes and back-to-school items last month, offering retailers' hopes of a solid year-end shopping season, SpendingPulse said.

Seasonal adjusted retail sales, excluding autos, grew 0.3 percent for a second straight month in September, below the preliminary reading of a 0.4 percent gain released a week ago, said SpendingPulse.

In dollar terms, September seasonally adjusted ex-auto sales reached $287.7 billion, up 5.3 percent from a year ago,

"Overall the data are providing more optimism on consumer spending than a couple of months ago," said Michael McNamara, vice president of research and analysis at SpendingPulse, a retail data service of MasterCard Advisors, an arm of MasterCard Worldwide.

Growth in consumer spending, which accounts for two-thirds of the economy, showed signs of accelerating last month after falling this summer when gasoline prices were hovering near record highs.

Regular unleaded gasoline averaged $2.31 a gallon in the last week in September, down 62 cents from the same period a year earlier and at its lowest weekly level since late February, according to the Energy Information Administration.

Factoring out gasoline and autos, retail sales improved 0.6 percent from August's levels, SpendingPulse said.

Less money spent at the pump spelled more disposable income for spending on clothes, which posted a 12.3 percent year-over-year increase in September, McNamara said.

Strong clothing demand boosted the bottom line last month for retailers such as Limited Brands Inc. (NYSE:LTD - news), J.C. Penney Inc. (NYSE:JCP - news) and Nordstrom Inc. (NYSE:JWN - news).

In contrast, retailers like Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT - news) and Costco (Nasdaq:COST - news) missed sales expectations against last year's results inflated by purchased in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Moreover, the housing slowdown has been crimping furniture sales, which fell 10 percent in September from a year ago, McNamara said.

"Furnitures continued to show negative growth. They have been decelerating all year," he said.

SpendingPulse's September retail sales, not adjusted for seasonal factors, totaled $278.3 billion, down 5.4 percent from August and up 4.9 percent from a year earlier.

Meanwhile, economists expected that ex-auto retail sales were stagnant in September versus August. The median forecast on the government's seasonally adjusted ex-auto sales likely showed zero growth in September, and overall sales likely grew by 0.2 percent.

The government will release its September retail survey at 8:30 a.m. (1230 GMT) on Friday.

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