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October 15, 2018 10:45 AM, EDT

Retail Sales Gain Weak 0.1% in September

Consumer shopping Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

WASHINGTON — U.S. consumer spending edged up a slight 0.1% in September, a disappointing performance in which rebounding auto sales were offset by weakness in other areas.

The Commerce Department said Oct. 15 that the scant gain in September followed an equally meager 0.1% increase in August.

It was the weakest two-month performance since the start of the year and was well below economist projections of a solid 0.6% rise in sales.

Retail sales are closely watched for signs they can provide for consumer spending, which drives two-thirds of economic activity. The economy expanded at a sizzling 4.2% rate in the second quarter.

Analysts have been forecasting that growth will come in at a still-solid rate above 3% in the just-completed third quarter, but the weakness in retail sales may cause them to rethink their forecasts.

The modest September gain was led by a 0.8% rise in auto sale, which represented a rebound from a 0.5% decline in July.

Car lot

David Zalubowski/Associated Press

Analysts had been expecting the increase, believing that sales would get a boost last month from purchases of replacement cars damaged by Hurricane Florence.

But excluding autos, retail sales fell 0.1%, after sales excluding autos rose 0.2% in August.

In a more encouraging sign, sales in a so-called control group that feeds into calculations for the gross domestic product were up 0.5% in September after being flat in August.

Gasoline sales fell 0.8% in September after a 1.1% jump in August. That swing was influenced by prices that have retreated a bit after a big jump in August. The average price for a gallon of regular gas is $2.83, up from $2.47 a year ago, according to a nationwide survey by AAA.

Sales at general merchandise stores, which include big box stores such as Walmart and Target, rose 0.3%, while sales at department stores fell 0.8%.