U.S. retail sales increased in September at the fastest pace in six months, providing a sign of optimism for some merchants heading into the holiday shopping season, economists said before a report this week.
The projected 0.7 percent gain would follow no change in the previous month, according to the median of 69 forecasts in a Bloomberg News survey ahead of Commerce Department figures on Oct. 14. The trade gap widened in August, other data may show.
Macy’s Inc. and Kohl’s Corp. are among retailers adding more workers than last year in anticipation demand will hold up even amid limited job growth and stock-market volatility that’s left Americans more pessimistic. President Barack Obama, lawmakers and the Federal Reserve face pressure to spur the employment gains needed to support household spending, which accounts for about 70 percent of the world’s largest economy.
“The consumer thus far has remained fairly resilient to the worries of Wall Street,” said Russell Price, a senior economist at Ameriprise Financial Inc. in Detroit. “Retailers right now are still pretty much treading water. They’ve managed their inventory and staffing levels very, very well to maintain profit levels.”
Retail purchases excluding automobiles rose 0.3 percent last month after a 0.1 percent increase in August, economists said.
September light-vehicle deliveries climbed to a seasonally adjusted annualized rate of 13.1 million, according to Woodcliff Lake, New Jersey-based Autodata Corp. The rate is the highest since April’s 13.2 million, when lost output caused by Japan’s earthquake and tsunami began crimping supply of cars and parts.
Same-store sales at retailers, excluding Wal-Mart Stores Inc., rose 5.5 percent in September compared with a year earlier, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers.
At the same time, slower job growth, the real-estate slump and a volatile stock market will limit retail sales growth to 2.8 percent during the holiday season this year, according to the National Retail Federation.
The gain to an estimated $465.6 billion in November and December sales compares with a 5.2 percent jump last year and the 10-year average of 2.6 percent, the Washington based NRF said last week. Stores may hire 480,000 to 500,000 seasonal employees, in line with the 495,000 added last year, the group said.
“Households have been very cautious in their spending decisions,” Fed Chairman Ben S. Bernanke said Oct. 4 in congressional testimony. “Probably the most significant factor depressing consumer confidence, however, has been the poor performance of the job market.”
The jobless rate held at 9.1 percent in September even as employers added more payrolls than forecast. The Labor Department said Oct. 7 that payrolls climbed by 103,000 workers after a revised 57,000 increase the prior month that was more than originally estimated. The figures reflected the end of a strike at Verizon Communications Inc. that brought 45,000 people back to work.
The White House last month submitted a $447 billion jobs bill to Congress that economists surveyed by Bloomberg forecast would help avoid a return to a recession by maintaining growth and pushing down the unemployment rate next year. The legislation faces Republican opposition.
Macy’s, the second-biggest U.S. department-store chain, is increasing hiring of mostly part-time workers by 4 percent for the holiday season to match sales growth in its stores and online. Kohl’s, the fourth-largest U.S. department-store chain, said last week it may hire more than 40,000 holiday workers, a 5 percent increase from 2010.
The Standard & Poor’s Supercomposite Retailing Index is little changed this year, while the broader S&P 500 Index has declined 8.1 percent during the same period.
Companies may have started preparing for the holiday shopping season by ordering more imported merchandise in August. The U.S. trade deficit probably widened to $46 billion from $44.8 billion in July, economists said ahead of an Oct. 13 report from the Commerce Department.
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