US retail sales likely rose 0.3 percent in August

Economic IndicatorsAssociated Press

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

SALES RECOVER: Economists forecast that retail sales rose 0.3 percent last month, according to a survey by FactSet. This would follow a 0.6 percent gain in July and 2.4 percent increase over the past 12 months.

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AUTOS AND RESTAURANTS DRIVE SPENDING: Retail sales have been fed this year by solid and steady job gains. The hiring — 2.9 million additional jobs over the past 12 months — has translated into a surge of spending at auto dealers and restaurants. The U.S. economy has become increasingly reliant on consumer spending to maintain growth amid a broader global slowdown.

Carmakers are on pace to top vehicle sales of 17 million for the first time since 2001. Nearly a fifth of all retail sales tracked by the government come from the auto sectors. Sales at dealerships and parts stores have surged 6.9 percent during the past 12 months, as many Americans are replacing their older vehicles.

The healing job market also has Americans getting out of their own dining rooms more, which has been a boon for restaurants that had suffered in the wake of the recessions as people watched every dime.

Purchases at restaurants and bars have soared have soared 9 percent this year. And dining establishments have added more than 372,000 workers over the past year to satiate the new businesses.

Still, overall consumer spending growth has been much more modest. This largely stems from gasoline being dramatically cheaper, causing purchases at service stations to plummet 15.2 percent since July 2014. Consumers have mostly pocketed the savings, instead of shifting their spending elsewhere as gas costs averaged $2.33 a gallon nationwide — a 31.5 percent drop over the past year, according to AAA.

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.