Retail and food services sales increased 0.2%, to $424.5 billion, for July, according to a Commerce Department report (link opens as PDF) released today.

After bumping up a revised 0.6% in June, analysts had expected a slower growth rate, but their 0.3% estimate proved slightly overoptimistic. 

But top-line numbers look better when accounting for more volatile automobile and gasoline sales. Auto sales dropped off 1% for July (after surging 2.9% in June), putting retail sales, less motor vehicles, at 0.5% growth compared to analysts' 0.4% expectations. When excluding gasoline's 0.9% month-over-month gain as well, retail sales increased by 0.4% for July.


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Source: Census.gov. 

Outside of those two sectors, sporting goods, hobby, book & music stores led sales with a 1% increase, while furniture stores lagged with a 1.4% drop.

Over the last year, retail sales are up 5.4%, primarily due to an 11.8% increase in motor vehicles & parts dealers, an 8.8% boost in nonstore retailers, and a 7.9% bump in building material & garden equipment sales.

Some big retail chains have reported that shoppers seemed to be holding off on back-to-school shopping in July. Revenue at stores opened at least a year rose 3.5% compared with a year ago, according to a tally of 11 retailers by the International Council of Shopping Centers.

-- Material from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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The article Retail Sales Up 0.2% for July originally appeared on Fool.com.

Fool contributor Justin Loiseau has no position in any stocks mentioned. You can follow him on Twitter @TMFJLo and on Motley Fool CAPS @TMFJLo. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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