U.S. Retail Sales Unchanged Amid Pullbacks In Gas, Auto Sales

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With pullbacks in gasoline and auto sales offsetting strength in other areas, the Commerce Department released a report on Wednesday showing U.S. retail sales came in flat in the month of July.

The Commerce Department said retail sales were virtually unchanged in July after climbing by a downwardly revised 0.8 percent in June.

Economists had expected retail sales to inch up by 0.1 percent compared to the 1.0 percent jump originally reported for the previous month.

The report showed sales by motor vehicle and parts dealers tumbled by 1.6 percent in July after climbing by 0.5 percent in June.

Excluding the decrease in auto sales, retail sales rose by 0.4 percent in July following a downwardly revised 0.9 percent advance in June.

The increase came as a surprise to economists, who had expected ex-auto sales to edge down by 0.1 percent compared to the 1.0 percent surge originally reported for the previous month.

The unexpected ex-auto sales growth was partly due to a 2.7 percent surge in sales by non-store retailers, which partly reflected Amazon's (AMZN) Prime Day event.

Building material, garden equipment and supplies and miscellaneous store retailers also saw notable sales growth during the month.

As mentioned above, however, the sales growth was partly offset by a 1.8 percent slump in sales by gasoline stations amid the recent pullback in gas prices.

Excluding gas station and auto sales, retail sales rose by 0.7 percent in July, matching the increase seen in the previous month.

Closely watched core retail sales, which exclude automobiles, gasoline, building materials and food services, also advanced by 0.8 percent in July after climbing by 0.7 percent in June.

"Despite the flat headline reading, the core retail sales figures in July show the consumer has staying power as it entered Q3," said Kathy Bostjancic, Chief U.S. Economist at Oxford Economics.

She added, "Spending will receive a further boost in the coming months as consumer goods and energy price gains continue to ease."

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