) -- There's lots of data this morning for retail investors to pay attention to: consumer sentiment, retail sales and consumer prices. But mixed results have sent the Dow seesawing, and are making it difficult for investors to decide exactly where the consumer is headed moving into the holiday season.

Retail sales sent stocks up earlier this morning, but a surprise dip in consumer sentiment reversed earlier gains for companies like





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Urban Outfitters

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Reuters-University of Michigan consumer sentiment index declined to 67.9 from 68.2 in September, below economists' forecasts of 69.8.

Consumer expectations for six months from now, which more closely projects the direction of consumer spending, rose to 64.6 from 60.9. This is the smallest gain since March 2009.

But Majestic Research economist Steve Blitz advises to take consumer sentiment numbers with a grain of salt. "I never found sentiment numbers to be particularly valuable, since there are lots of ways to read survey data," he says.

Regardless of how consumers are feeling, they are still spending.

Retail sales grew 0.6% in September

, in-line with forecasts. Excluding autos, which saw a 1.6% jump, sales rose 0.4%.

For the most part, sales grew across the board, but clothing stores reported a 0.2% decline.

This drop doesn't match up to numbers from Redbook and the International Council of Shopping Centers, Blitz says. "Seasonal factors may have played a role here and it would be no surprise if September sales are revised higher."

Separately, the Labor Department also announced that consumer prices rose 0.1%, less than forecast, while the core rate, which excludes the volatile food and energy sectors, remained unchanged -- all of which is raising concerns of deflation.

So how do you trade this data? Ultimately, Blitz says we are continuing to see a pattern where consumers will spend money if they have to, attributing a large portion of September's sales gain to back-to-school shopping. Of course, when consumers do shop, they continue to look for value.


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have already announced price cuts in some high-traffic holiday categories like toys, and specialty retailers are expected to also step up their promotional levels.

--Written by Jeanine Poggi in New York.

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