Ahead of the Bell: US retail sales

US retail sales likely rose modestly in October, bolstered by steady job gains

Associated Press
US retail sales rise ahead of holiday shopping
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In this Oct. 28, 2014 photo, customers shop at the Century 21 Department Store in Philadelphia. The Commerce Department releases retail sales data for October on Friday, Nov. 14, 2014. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Commerce Department releases retail sales data for October on Friday at 8:30 a.m. Eastern.

MODEST GAIN: Economists forecast that retail sales rose a slim 0.2 percent last month, according to a survey by the data firm FactSet.

Sales fell 0.3 percent in September after a solid 0.6 percent gain in August. In September, sales were up 4.3 percent from 12 months earlier. Steady job gains this year have given Americans more money to spend. Still, annual retail sales gains usually topped 5 percent a year before the recession began in late 2007.

WAITING FOR MORE SPENDING: The economy and hiring have improved steadily this year. Yet Americans are still spending cautiously, which could restrain growth in the coming months.

Several trends suggest that consumers should be more willing to open their wallets. Employers have stepped up hiring, adding an average of 229,000 jobs a month this year. That's put hiring in 2014 on track to be the strongest in 15 years. The unemployment rate has fallen to 5.8 percent, a six-year low, from 7.2 percent 12 months earlier. More jobs means more people are earning paychecks.

Gas prices have dropped for 49 straight days to an average of $2.92 a gallon nationwide, according to AAA. That is the lowest in nearly four years. Every one-cent decline in gas prices frees up about $1 billion for consumers to spend on other items.

Stock markets have returned to record levels after fears over a global growth slowdown caused turmoil in October. That boosts the value of wealthier Americans' stock portfolios and can encourage more spending.

Those trends have made Americans more confident about the economy. Measures of consumer confidence reached seven-year highs last month.

Yet there are also factors that have been restraining consumers. Despite the pickup in job growth, paychecks have barely stayed ahead of inflation since the recession ended more than five years ago. Average hourly wages, adjusted for inflation, rose just 0.3 percent in September from a year earlier.

And many Americans who once worked full-time now have part-time jobs. There are still nearly 2 million fewer people working full time than in December 2007, when the Great Recession began.

Consumer confidence, meanwhile, despite its rebound from recession lows, is still below levels typical of a healthy economy.

Consumers actually cut back on their spending in September for the first time in eight months, though that followed a solid gain in August.

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