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Retail Sales Stall In July, But Core Spending Gains As Gas Prices Tumble

Core retail sales improved firmly in July, but the headline figure was essentially unchanged as gas prices tumbled from their June record highs.

Updated at 10:01 am EST

U.S. retail sales stalled last month, Commerce Department indicated Friday, as tumbling gas prices clipped the headline number, but added strength to underlying purchases as discretionary spending improved.

July retail sales were essentially unchanged from the previous month to a collective $$682.8 billion, the Commerce Department said, just shy of the Street consensus forecast of a 0.1% gain. The June total was revised lower, to a gain of 0.8%, the Commerce Department report showed, from the original estimate of a 1% advance.

Stripping out the auto sector, June retail sales were also up 0.4%, the report noted, while stand-alone sales of gasoline fell 1.8% as prices retreated from the record high $5.017 per gallon hit during the month of June.

"The big picture here is favourable," said Ian Shepherdson of Pantheon Macroeconomics. "The hit from the surge in gas prices is barely visible in these data, because many people have been willing to absorb the blow by running down some of the huge pile of savings accumulated during the pandemic."

"We thought it might take consumers a bit longer to respond to the drop in gas prices over the past couple months, so this is a pleasant surprise," he added.
Expect to see Q3 GDP forecasts move a bit higher, and look out too for forecasts of upward revisions to Q2."

U.S. stocks traded firmly lower following the data release, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average falling 180 points and the S&P 500 moving 28 points to the downside.

Benchmark 10-year Treasury note yields edged higher, to 2.891% following the data release while the dollar index was marked 0.3% higher on the session at 106.764 against a basket of six global currencies.

Gas prices were a big component to the softer reading, as the national average cost for a gallon of gas looks set to fall below the $4 mark for the first time since early March this week, pulling prices more than 21% lower from their early June record highs amid run of fifty consecutive days of decline.

The closely-tracked control group number, which excludes autos, building materials, office suppliers, gas station sales and tobacco, rose 0.8%, topping the Street consensus forecast of 0.6% and matching the second-highest tally of the year.

Inflationary pressures also eased over the month of July, with headline CPI slowing to an annual 8.5% from the 9.1% pace recorded in June and effectively halting from June levels on a month-to-month basis.