US Retail Sales Advance, but Consumer Confidence Wanes

Posted August 12th, 2011 at 12:20 pm (UTC-5)
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New reports in the United States give a mixed view of the national economy, with retail sales increasing last month, even as consumer confidence plunged to a 31-year low.

The government’s Commerce Department said Friday that retail sales, a key barometer of the country’s economic health, increased in July by the most in four months. Consumers spent more on autos, furniture and gasoline, helping push retail sales up by one-half of one percent, following a slightly smaller increase in June.

But a second report showed U.S. consumers are still wary about the nation’s high unemployment rate, losses on major stock markets and other economic concerns. The Thomson Reuters-University of Michigan consumer confidence index for August dropped 14 percent to its lowest level since May 1980.

Consumer spending accounts for 70 percent of the U.S. economy, so consumer spending trends are watched closely. The July spending increase was the country’s biggest since an advance of eight-tenths of a percent in March.

But since then, Standard & Poor’s downgraded the country’s credit rating and the major stock markets whipsawed between huge losses and massive gains this week, with the volatility worrying many investors.

U.S. President Barack Obama is meeting Friday with key business leaders about the state of the national economy, the biggest issue he faces ahead of his bid to win election to another four-year term in next year’s presidential balloting.

Policy experts at the U.S. central bank, the Federal Reserve, say that the country’s economic recovery is “considerably slower” than originally projected. Officials say they plan to keep interest rates at record-low levels for another two years in an effort to boost the nation’s economic fortunes.

Still, about 14 million workers remain unemployed. High gasoline prices, a major concern in the car-dependent country, have moderated only slightly in recent weeks.

Back-to-school sales promotions helped boost some consumer spending last month, as did increased new car sales. Nine of the 13 categories measured by the government showed increased sales.