Gasoline pumpInvestors may have gotten some relief from strong gasoline and auto sales, which helped lift retail results overall and should ease some fears of a double-dip recession.

The Commerce Department's retail and food services sales tally for July rose to $362.7 billion, up 5.5% from July 2009 and up 0.4% from June. The month-over month increase was on target with most estimates.

That's a hopeful sign, after reports from the top retailers last week that were a letdown. Most retail observers had expected July sales to be 3% to 4% above last year's, but the average of the major retailers' tallies came in just below the bottom number. Most analysts blamed consumer malaise due to weak economic numbers and the continued scorching weather for wilting sales.

Losing Momemtum?

Excluding auto sales, Commerce Department totals were up 4.9% from the year-ago month, and retail sales only were up 5.9%. Commerce's tally is the most complete picture of retail, including gas, food and auto sales, as well as the results of Wal-Mart Stores (WMT), the world's largest retailer, which doesn't publicly report monthly sales.

Investors have been concerned that consumer spending is losing momentum, after a strong showing earlier in the year. Since the broadly defined consumer spending category accounts for up to 70% of the U.S. economy, a slowdown at the mall could drag down the recovery or even spark a double dip.

Auto dealers and gas stations were the strongest retailers in the latest report. July auto sales were up 8.9% year-over-year and 1.7% month-over month, while gas sales were up 12.2% and 2.3%, respectively. Most other retail sectors showed gains year-over-year but were down month-over-month, except department stores, which dropped 0.8% from last July and 1% from June.

Growing, but at a Slower Rate

"July was a bit of a mixed bag," says Kamalesh Rao, director of economic research for MasterCard SpendingPulse. He noted that while sales numbers have stabilized, growth rates look like they've lost a bit of momentum since the start of the year.

The month-over-month numbers show shoppers are slowing down, he said. MasterCard SpendingPulse tally, which includes sales via both credit cards and other payment systems, found sales excluding gas and autos were up 0.1% month-over-month and up 0.4% over last July.

"Keep in mind that total retail sales are growing, just growing at a slower rate," cautions Rao. That still leaves the U.S. economy with a thin cushion to soften any shocks, he notes.

Looking forward, Rao says August sales are the peak of the back-to-school season and should benefit from state-tax-free shopping holidays. But he adds that the question is whether economic fundamentals "will be able to do anything more than tread water," leaving shoppers with little reason to spend.

Too Hot to Shop?

Some retailers are already being cautious about their back-to-school forecasts. Although several polls point out parents plan to spend a bit more this year, they're also saying they'll shop carefully and postpone purchases to take advantage of clearances later in the fall.

As the second-quarter retail earnings reports began arriving this month, most merchants were guardedly optimistic but said they will mainly focus on fighting for market share in the fall.

Despite saying his company is expecting a healthy back-to-school season, Kohl's (KSS) Chairman Kevin Mansell says August should be the weakest month in the third quarter, when Kohl's expects comparable sales to rise in the 2% to 4% range. Both the economy and the record high temperatures have a hand on that, he says.

"It's still very hot," Mansell says. "That's not always a positive for August."

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pinus1

Is this suppose to be good news? OPEC countries are killing America with their oil prices. I worry for the elderly when winter heating bills arrive.
China is killing our trade. A heavy tax/duty on their goods would level the field and help our economy; as well as putting people back to work.
I did read some good news on a web site www.Bikefree.org Two fellows are biking across our great country to raise funds for the children of our fallen and wounded troops. The goal is to deliver new bicycles to these sad and suffering little kids this Christmas.
If we each gave a buck or 50 cents it would be almost as much as the Red Cross raised for Haiti.

American children in a painful time in their lives. The www.Bikefree.org web site is great with videos, many are funny, many are beautiful; as they bike from one great state to another. Even the many television reporters are good.

Bikefree.org

August 15 2010 at 9:35 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
k4jlp

THATS THE NEWS THAT THE JEW "INVESTORS" HAVE BEEN WAITING FOR SO THAT CAN 'SPECULATE" THE PRICE AT THE PUMP UP EVEN HIGHER THAN IT IS NOW. IT'S THE 4 AND 5 DOLLAR A GALLON PRICES ALONG WITH HIGHER OUT OF POCKET MEDICAL COST AND JOBS SENT OVERSEAS THAT BROKE THIS COUNTRY. OH YEA AND DON'T FORGET THE TWO REPUKE WARS TO DIVIDE UP THE OIL RESERVES IN IRAQ. REMEMBER "MISSION ACCOMPLISHED" THAT WAS DECLARED AFTER THE OIL CONTRACTS WERE DONE.

August 15 2010 at 7:51 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
white41990

Our economy will never recover 100% until those markets get the regulation they had back in 1999. We also need regulations set on OIL, if prices continue to rise the consumer needs to cut back on other items to fill his/her tank to get to work and other important destinations, a increase in OIL doesn't mean a wage increase will follow if your employed. When OIL increases, so does everything else, government also needs to cut their spend by at least 50% the weaker the dollar is the higher OIL will be which means less consumer spending on other things to boost our economy and bring back the jobs.

August 14 2010 at 6:15 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
marine1942

Thanks obama. Enjoy your 10 day vacation

August 13 2010 at 7:34 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
Jeff

I am paying $3.36 for a gallon of unleaded regular in Honolulu, and that is at a "Club Warehouse". There is absolutely no reason for such high prices here in Hawaii.......but when I see huge trucks with V8 engines flying by me, I figure I must be kidding myself!

August 13 2010 at 3:01 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
jbjg24m

GAS PRICES HERE ARE $2.60 PER GALLON !

August 13 2010 at 2:43 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Mark B. Ward

Based on the changes in gas prices through this past year the rate of gas went as low as $2.45 and as high as $2.94 on the national average (figures are from graphs by NCgasprices.com. The rate based upon last year at this time has increased only 4%. My power bill increased 10% from month to month with same average KW's used. We are being ripped off. Consumer incomes have fallen and unemployment is still bad. So how has congress or the grand puba done anything to help? It's a wonder I can buy anything new with how much smaller my dollar is compared to last year.

August 13 2010 at 2:10 PM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply
bohemianacres

And for the month of August gas prices will show another "sales increase". Two weeks ago a barrel was over $81.00. Today it is near an even $75.00. Eliminating taxes and station markups, do you think with the $6.00 decrease there has been the 15 cents corresponding decrease at the pump? If you believe that, I have a bridge to sell you. When there was the 81 dollar a barrel, gas at the pump rose to $2.69 here. Today, it has lowered to $2.64. Hardly the 15 cents it should have. Gas prices will surely show an increase in sales next report.

August 13 2010 at 1:46 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to bohemianacres's comment
Mark B. Ward

futures prices for gas has come down .35 cents since the barrel of oil has come down $6. I have only seen a .02 cent change in our prices in our area of NC.

August 13 2010 at 1:57 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
thepetermedic

lol this has nothing to do with the double dip that is comming people saud f this and went on vacation this year unlike last year if ms michelle obama can do it were doing it to

August 13 2010 at 12:58 PM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply
Jones Alloys

WHEN OBAMA PUTS BP OUT OF BUSINESS WE CAN ALL PAY 12.00/GAL

August 13 2010 at 11:59 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply