U.S. retail sales rose by an estimated 0.1% in August, the slowest in six months, as consumers spent less on autos and clothing.
The increase, reported by the Census Department on Friday, Sept. 14, was below the average 0.4% projection of economists in a FactSet survey, and also was below the 0.7% gain reported for July.
The report was the second in two days to signal that the rapid economic growth fueled by President Donald Trump's tax cuts last December might be cooling. On Thursday, the Labor Department said that U.S. inflation slowed more than expected in August.
Wall Street analysts have closely monitored consumer activity for signs of how Trump's $1.5 trillion of tax cuts are affecting growth, especially with mid-term congressional elections less than two months away. The U.S. unemployment rate, at 3.9%, is close to an 18-year low, meaning more Americans are on payrolls, and recently signs have emerged that workers also are benefiting from faster wage increases.
Retail sales in August were still 6.6% higher than a year earlier, close to a six-year high. Charlie Ripley, senior strategist at Allianz Investment Management, said it's too early to tell if the August slowdown is an ominous sign or just a one-month blip. Most indications are that Trump's economy continues to run hot, though many investors worry that the president's trade battles with China could put a damper on future growth.
"We're a consumption-driven economy, so the more people consume, the higher growth that we're going to have," said Ripley.
The Standard & Poor's 500 Index rose 0.5% on Friday to 2,904, while the yield on the 10-year U.S. Treasury note climbed 0.036 percentage point to 2.998%.
The University of Michigan said Friday that its index of consumer sentiment climbed by 4.8% in August to 100.8, which is close to the highest in 14 years.
"Consumers anticipated continued growth in the economy that would produce more jobs and an even lower unemployment rate during the year ahead," the university said in a statement. "The largest problem cited on the economic horizon involved the anticipated negative impact from tariffs."
According to the Census, retail sales by motor-vehicle and parts dealers slipped by 0.8% in August, while those at clothing stores fell by 1.7%.
Sales by gasoline stations rose by 1.7% during the month, while health and personal-care stores increased by 0.5%. Sales by electronics and appliance stores climbed by 0.4%.
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