Ahead of the Bell: US Retail Sales

Markets Associated Press

FILE - In this Friday, Oct. 21, 2016, file photograph, Sara Judge, left, manager of the Dam Store, located at the mouth of the Big Thompson Canyon, helps customer Jessica Wiechman, right, from West Point, Neb., with a purchase, in Loveland, Colo. On ... Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2016, the Commerce Department reports on retail sales for October. (Michael Brian/Loveland Reporter-Herald via AP, File) (The Associated Press)

The Commerce Department will release the October retail sales report Tuesday at 8:30 a.m. Eastern.

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SHOP TIL YOU DROP: Economists forecast that retail sales likely rose a healthy 0.6 percent last month, according to data provider FactSet. That would match September's gain.

CONSUMERS AND GROWTH: A solid retail sales figure would be a good sign for the economy and many store chains as the crucial winter holiday shopping period begins.

Many of the ingredients for healthy consumer spending are in place: The unemployment rate declined to a low 4.9 percent last month, from 5 percent. Employers have added about 175,000 jobs a month this year, down from last year's pace but still enough to push unemployment even lower over time. And there are signs wage growth is picking up.

Another bright spot is consumer confidence, which has been mostly healthy in recent months. A measure of consumer sentiment by the University of Michigan rose in the first half of November, likely buoyed by job gains and slightly lower gas prices.

Still, Americans have remained cautious about spending for most of the seven-year recovery from the Great Recession. Higher spending has frequently been followed by pullbacks.

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Consumer spending grew at a weak 2.1 percent annual pace in the July-September quarter. That was less than half the 4.3 percent pace in the second quarter, which was the strongest in 18 months.

Retail sales rose in September partly because people bought more cars, yet it is unclear how long that trend will continue. Auto sales have shown signs of leveling off, though at a near-record level.

Another wild card may have been the presidential election, which could have caused some Americans to hold off on major purchases until after the outcome.