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Economic Report: Retail sales rebound, but they aren’t adding much oomph to the U.S. economy

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The numbers: Sales at U.S. retailers rose 0.3% in August as Americans spent more on new cars and trucks and went out to eat more, suggesting the economy grew at at a steady pace toward the end of the summer.

Retail sales are a big part of consumer spending and offer clues on the strength of the economy.

The amount of money Americans are spending is still quite high, but it largely reflects higher prices they are paying because of soaring inflation. Retail spending has basically been flat for the past year if adjusted for inflation.

If autos and gasoline stations are set aside, sales also rose 0.3% in last month, the government said Thursday.

Retail sales were forecast to be unchanged in August, according to economists polled by The Wall Street Journal.

The mild increase in sales, however, did not look as promising in light of government revisions showing that receipts actually fell 0.4% in July instead of being flat. The decline in sales in July was the first in seven months.

Big picture: Retailers are basically treading water. They are selling roughly the same amount of goods and services as they were a year earlier after inflation is factored in.

The U.S. economy as a whole is faring somewhat better, with growth forecast to accelerate in the third quarter running from July through September.

Yet the economy faces a rough patch as the calendar turns toward 2023 — perhaps even a recession — as the Federal Reserve tries jack up interest rates to try to douse high inflation.

Market reaction: The Dow Jones Industrial Average
DJIA,
+0.10%

and S&P 500
SPX,
+0.34%

were set to open lower in Thursday trades.

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