Shoppers at Santa Monica Place shopping mall on Aug. 17, 2012 in Santa Monica, Calif. (Photo: Kevork Djansezian Getty Images)
WASHINGTON -- Americans stepped up their spending at retail businesses in September.
sales rose 1.1% last month, the Commerce Department said Monday. That
followed a 1.2% increase in August, which was revised slightly higher.
Both were the largest gains since October 2010.
A second report Monday said companies restocked their shelves at a solid pace in August.
The combination of higher stockpiles and increased sales should help boost economic growth.
inventories grew 0.6% in August following a July gain of 0.8% that had
been the strongest since January, the Commerce Department said.
Companies typically boost their stockpiles when they anticipate sales
will rise in coming months. Faster restocking helps drive economic
growth. When businesses order more goods, it typically leads to more
Total business stockpiles rose to $1.60
trillion. That is 22.4% higher than the low in September 2009. For
August, inventories rose 0.6% at the manufacturing and retail levels and
were up 0.5% at wholesale businesses.
Excluding autos and gas, retail sales were still up a solid 0.9% in September.
One area of weakness was department store sales, which fell 0.2% after no change in August.
retail sales report is closely watched because it is the government's
first look at consumer spending each month. Consumer spending drives
nearly 70% of economic activity. High unemployment and weak pay
increases have kept consumers from spending freely. That has held back
The economy grew at a weak 1.3% rate in the April-June
quarter. Most economists believe growth will stay around 2% for the rest
of the year.
Despite the weak growth, consumers grew more
confident in September. The Conference Board reported its confidence
index rose last month to the highest reading since February.
job market also looked a little better in September. The unemployment
rate dropped to 7.8% from 8.1% in August. It was the first time the rate
has been below 8% since January 2009.
And U.S. auto companies
reported that sales rose 13% in September from a year earlier to nearly
1.2 million. Analysts think sales could hit 14.3 million this year, up
from 12.8 million last year. The Federal Reserves' aggressive policies
have kept interest rates low, encouraging some Americans to replace