“This morning’s report provides confirmation that the American consumer remains a key driver of economic growth as we slowly approach the very important holiday shopping season,” said Michael Dolega, a senior economist at TD Bank.
Higher oil prices drove a
2.4 percent increase in sales at gas stations last month, though purchases remain down on a year-over-year basis because of previous price declines. Spending at restaurants improved 0.8 percent in September. Auto dealers, building materials stores and furnishers notched monthly gains of 1 percent or more.
Department stores suffered a 0.7 percent sales decline in September, part of a long-term slowdown for
the anchor tenants at many shopping malls that increasingly must compete with online outlets. But even online sales were soft. They rose a mere 0.3 percent in September, compared with recent monthly gains averaging nearly 1 percent.
Some analysts took a more downbeat view of retail sales, noting that corporate profits are being squeezed. And there are signs of fragility: Excluding motor vehicles and gasoline,
sales rose just 0.3 percent in September after being flat in August and declining 0.2 percent in July.
“We continue to believe that pressure on corporate profit margins will spur aggressive cost-cutting measures which will increasingly impinge on the pace of job growth through the course of next year,” said Joshua Shapiro, chief U.S. economist at the consultant MFR. “We therefore feel that the consumer is unlikely to
be able to sustain a substantial ‘engine of growth’ role as we move through 2017.”
Consumer spending, which accounts for about 70 percent of economic activity, increased at a 4.3 percent annual rate in the April-June quarter. That increase fueled much of the overall estimated annualized economic growth rate of just 1.4 percent during the April-June quarter.
Employers added 156,000 jobs in September. Unemployment
ticked up to 5 percent because more people — drawn by recent job growth— began looking for work.
In September, average hourly pay rose 6 cents to $25.79 and is now 2.6 percent higher than it was a year ago. The pace of wage growth has strengthened in recent months, with pay rising at only about 2 percent annually for much of the seven-year recovery from the Great Recession.