US retail sales likely grew at a slower pace in June, held back by fewer auto purchases

EnergyAssociated Press

The Commerce Department releases retail sales data for June on Tuesday at 8:30 a.m. Eastern.

SMALL INCREASE: Economists forecast that retail sales climbed 0.3 percent in June, according to a survey by FactSet. That would be down from a big 1.2 percent gain in May.

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May's figure was boosted by a large increase in auto purchases, which jumped to the highest level in nearly a decade. Industry data shows that car sales slowed somewhat in June, though remained at a healthy level.

Higher gas prices may also boost sales at gas stations. The average price of a gallon of gas was about $2.80 in mid-June, according to AAA, roughly 6 cents higher than in May.

GROWING CONFIDENCE?: Employers have added a robust 2.9 million jobs in the past 12 months, yet consumers have remained tepid in their spending this year. Gas is also still about 90 cents a gallon cheaper than it was a year ago, which leaves people with more money to spend on other goods.

That caution may reflect lingering scars from the recession that ended six years ago, when more than 8.5 million Americans lost their jobs.

Still, there are signs that consumers are becoming more confident about the economy, and that should translate into more spending.

The Conference Board's consumer confidence index jumped in June to its second-highest level since the recession ended in June 2009. It is now 17.4 percent higher than a year ago.

And Americans are borrowing more: Consumer credit, which includes auto, student and credit card loans and excludes mortgages, rose 6.5 percent in May from a year earlier.

Consumer spending surged in May, the Commerce Department said last month. It jumped 0.9 percent, the most in nearly six years, as income rose and Americans saved less.

Economists watch the retail sales report closely because it provides the first indication each month of the willingness of Americans to spend. Consumer spending drives 70 percent of the economy. Yet retail sales account for only about one-third of spending, with services such as haircuts and Internet access making up the other two-thirds.