July retail sales pick up speed

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US retail and food services sales increased 0.5% in July to $392.4 billion compared with June, and grew 8.5% compared with last July, according to US Census Bureau estimates. Sales in the retail and food services sector increased 7.9% to $2.7 trillion in the first seven months of 2011, compared with the same period of last year.

The report came four days after the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped more than 634 points and one week after the US Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the unemployment rate fell only slightly to 9.1% last month.

“We are seeing a resilient consumer,” said Kathy Grannis, director of media relations at the National Retail Federation. “This is certainly good news.”

Furniture and home furnishing stores generated $49.7 billion from January through July, a 0.2% increase compared with the same period of last year. July furniture sales increased 3.3% to $7.4 billion, compared with June.

Electronics and appliance stores sales dropped 0.3% to $54.4 billion compared with the first seven months of 2010. However, July sales increased 1.4% to $7.9 billion compared with June.

Building material, garden equipment and supplies dealer sales increased 5.1% to $175.4 billion in the first seven months of the year. July sales dropped 14.5% to $26.1 billion, compared with June.

For the first seven months of the year, food and beverage store sales grew 5.3% to $352.7 billion compared with January-to-July 2010. July sales increased 3% to $53.1 billion compared with June.

Although several media reports characterized the numbers as “relieving” and a sign that Americans may not be “pulling back as unemployment remains high and the economy shaky,” Grannis said it may still be “too soon to see how the recent changes in the stock market will impact August sales.”

“Consumers will only be able to carry the economic recovery on their shoulders for so long,” she said. “We need to see steady improvements in employment figures in order for the momentum we've seen to carry into 2012.”  

Health and personal-care store sales increased 5% to $157.8 billion from January through July, compared with the same period of last year.

Clothing and clothing accessory store sales increased 5.7% to $120.1 billion during the first seven months of 2011, compared with 2010.

Sporting goods, hobby, book and music store sales increased 4.9% to $46.6 billion, compared with January to July of last year.

July sales in the health and personal care, clothing and accessories and sporting goods categories were flat compared with June.

General merchandise store sales increased 3.2% to $346.3 billion compared with the first seven months of 2010.

The January-to-July period's motor vehicle and parts dealers sales increased 10.9% year-over-year to $478.5 billion.

July sales in the general merchandise and motor vehicle categories dropped 1.2% compared with June.

The advance estimates are based on a subsample of the Census Bureau's full retail and food services sample, according to a statement from the US Department of Commerce. A stratified random sampling method is used to select approximately 5,000 retail and food services firms whose sales are then weighted and benchmarked to represent the complete universe of more than 3 million retail and food services firms.

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