Ahead of the Bell: US retail sales

US retail sales likely fell slightly in September, as auto sales cool and gas prices drop

Associated Press
US retail sales fell in September on autos and gas
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In this June 5, 2014 photo, Chelsea Vick shops for clothes at Wal-Mart Supercenter in Rogers, Ark. The Commerce Department releases retail sales data for September 2014 on Wednesday, Oct. 15, 2014. (AP Photo/Sarah Bentham)

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Commerce Department releases retail sales data for September. The report will released Wednesday at 8:30 a.m. Eastern.

SALES DECLINE: Economists forecast that retail sales slid 0.1 percent last month, according to a survey by the data firm FactSet.

Sales rose 0.6 percent in August compared with July. Over the past 12 months, retail shopping has improved 5 percent. The gains reflect the elevated pace of hiring, with the unemployment rate slipping to 5.9 percent from 7.2 percent during the same period.

TAPPING THE BRAKES ON AUTO SALES: After revving up in August, auto sales slowed in September. Dealers sold cars and trucks at an annual pace of 16.43 million vehicles last month, down from a rate of 17.5 million in August. While auto sales have helped drive economic growth for much of the year, the recent dip was enough to dent overall retail sales in September.

Falling gasoline prices also likely contributed to a decline in retail sales. Drivers are spending much less at the pump, as average U.S. prices have dropped to $3.19 a gallon, from $3.40 a month ago.

On the other side of the ledger, Bank of America believes that electronics sales probably improved in September thanks in part to the release of new iPhones by Apple. Apple says it sold more than 10 million iPhone 6 and 6 Plus models, a record for a new model, in the three days after the phones went on sale.

Excluding auto sales, economists estimate that sales climbed 0.2 percent last month.

Increased consumer spending could help buffer the U.S. economy from the consequences of a broader global slowdown. Roughly 70 percent of all U.S. economic activity is driven by consumer spending.

The German government on Tuesday downgraded its economic growth projections, while much of Europe copes with high unemployment and diminished prospects. China's propulsive growth has started to fade, and consumers in Japan are still spending cautiously after a big sales tax increase. Last week, the International Monetary Fund trimmed its global growth forecasts for this year and next, citing weakness in Japan, Latin America and Europe.

In the U.S., future gains in retail spending will likely hinge on job growth.

Employers added 248,000 jobs last month, according to the Labor Department. Job growth has averaged 227,000 a month through the first nine months of 2014.

Each new job increases the number of paychecks in the economy. Still, wage gains have been sluggish since the recession ended in 2009 and that's led many people to be more cautious about spending money. Average hourly pay fell a penny to $24.53 in September. That's an increase of less than 2 percent over the past year, meaning pay is barely matching inflation.

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