By Bob Willis
Retail sales in the U.S. climbed more than forecast in September, easing concern consumer spending will weaken and endanger the recovery.
Purchases rose 0.6 percent following a 0.7 percent gain in August that was larger than previously estimated, Commerce Department figures showed today in Washington. Other reports showed inflation cooled even further last month and manufacturing in the New York region accelerated.
Retailers like Target Corp. and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. are sweetening discounts and using promotions ahead of the holiday season to move merchandise as joblessness hovers near a 26-year high. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanketoday said gains in spending would probably be “uneven” because unemployment was too high, and indicated that additional monetary stimulus may be needed.
“They’re reasonably solid consumption numbers,” said Jim O’Sullivan, global chief economist at MF Global Ltd. in New York. “Momentum is going to be up again in the fourth quarter.”
Retail sales were projected to rise 0.4 percent after a 0.4 percent gain previously reported for August, according to the median estimate of 80 economists in a Bloomberg News survey. Economists’ estimates ranged from a decline of 0.1 percent to a gain of 0.8 percent.
The cost of living rose 0.1 percent in September, less than forecast, showing companies are finding it difficult to raise prices, figures from the Labor Department showed today. Core prices, which exclude food and fuel costs, rose 0.8 percent in the past 12 months, the smallest year-over-year gain since 1961.
The Fed Bank of New York’s general economic index rose to 15.7 in October, the highest level in four months and more than twice the median forecast of economists surveyed by Bloomberg. Readings greater than zero signal gains in the so-called Empire State Index covering New York, northern New Jersey and southern Connecticut.
Stocks dropped, led by sliding financial shares as banks face mounting pressure to address mishandled mortgage and foreclosure documents. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index fell 0.3 percent to 1,169.79 at 10:50 a.m. in New York. The S&P Supercomposite Financial Index dropped 1.4 percent. Longer-term Treasury securities fell on the better-than-expected economic data.
The advance was broad-based, with clothing stores the only major category to show a decline in demand last month. Sales rose 1.6 percent at car dealers, their best performance since March and in line with industry figures released earlier this month.
Excluding auto dealers, purchases rose 0.4 percent, also exceeding the projected 0.3 percent increase, according to the survey median.
Demand at non-store merchants, which include Internet retailers, climbed 1 percent, and rose 1.5 percent at electronics and appliance stores, the most since February.
Excluding autos, gasoline and building materials, which are the figures used to calculate gross domestic product, sales improved 0.4 percent after a revised 1 percent gain the prior month that was larger than previously estimated. The updated figures may prompt economist to boost growth estimates for the third quarter.
Target, the second-biggest discount retailer behind Wal- Mart, said last week that it would lower prices on more than 1,000 toys to attract shoppers. Its larger rival responded this week with its own discounts, advertising savings on brands such as Barbie and Nerf toys.
The National Retail Federation is forecasting holiday sales will be the best in four years and companies are planning on stepping up hiring as a result.
Toys “R” Us Inc., based in Wayne, New Jersey, last month said it would hire about 45,000 seasonal employees, doubling its U.S. workforce. The increase in seasonal employees is 10,000 more than last year.
Kohl’s Corp., the fourth-largest U.S. department store chain, plans to hire about 40,000 people this holiday season, 21 percent more than last year, the Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin- based company said in a statement last week.
A lack of jobs and Americans’ drive to pay down debt and boost savings may remain hurdles for retailers. Company payrolls grew by 64,000 workers in September, the fewest in three months, and wages stagnated, Labor Department figures showed last week.
Unemployment will average more than 9 percent though 2011, according to the median forecast of economists surveyed by
“There would appear — all else being equal — to be a case for further action,” Bernanke said today in the text of remarks given at a Boston Fed conference. He said the central bank could expand asset purchases or change the language in its statements, while saying “nonconventional policies have costs and limitations that must be taken into account in judging whether and how aggressively they should be used.”