WASHINGTON — U.S. retail sales were essentially flat in July, providing evidence that consumers have yet to shed their doubts about the economy despite recent job gains.
The Commerce Department said Wednesday that seasonally adjusted retail sales were unchanged in July compared with the prior month. Total sales rose a statistically insignificant $161 million from $439.6 billion in June.
Spending dipped at auto dealers and department stores last month. The losses were offset by gains at grocery stores, gasoline stations, restaurants, clothiers and building material stores.
The figures suggest that Americans are hesitant to spend, which could limit growth for the economy.
Retail sales are closely watched because consumer spending accounts for 70 percent of economic activity.
Retail sales have flat-lined even though employers have added more than 200,000 jobs a month for the past six months. Payrolls increased by 209,000 in July and 298,000 in June.
But those gains have yet to meaningfully boost wage growth above inflation, causing spending to be more restrained.
Retail sales have increased 3.7 percent over the past 12 months, but economists doubt that spending can grow much faster unless incomes increase.
“Consumers just don’t have the cash flow to finance sustained gains above 4 percent,” said Ian Shepherdson, chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics.
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