Retail sales managed a modest increase in July after two consecutive declines, but the strength was concentrated in higher sales of autos and gasoline. Most other retailers saw their sales fall.
Sales rose 0.4 percent last month and sales excluding autos climbed 0.2 percent, the Commerce Department said Friday.
The broad declines outside of auto and gas sales offer more evidence of a slowing recovery. The concern is that spending will slow further in the second half of this year as households struggle with high unemployment and lackluster job growth.
The July increase in retail sales followed declines of 0.3 percent in June and 1 percent in May. Sales had surged 2.1 percent in March but since that time consumer spending, which accounts for 70 percent of the economy, has weakened.
The major bright spot was a 1.6 percent rise in sales of motor vehicles and parts. It was the best showing since a 6.6 percent surge in March.
Summer promotions and easier credit lured shoppers back to car buying in July. Nissan, Toyota, Volkswagen, Subaru and Kia reported the biggest gains. The industry sold more than 1 million cars and light trucks. That's 5.1 percent higher than in July 2009. Last year auto sales fell to the lowest level in three decades.
Sales at gasoline stations rose 2.3 percent in July, the biggest jump since last November. But much of that strength reflected higher gas prices.
Excluding auto sales and gas, retail sales would have fallen 0.1 percent in July. That compares with a 0.2 percent increase in June when excluding autos and gasoline.
The July figures reflected widespread sales declines. Sales were down 1 percent at department stores and also dropped at specialty clothing stores, furniture stores, hardware stores and appliance stores.
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