US consumers remained hesitant last month, spending more on their homes, health and restaurants but cutting back on big-ticket items like cars and appliances, the Commerce Department said Friday.
In a report that comes just ahead of the Christmas shopping season, overall US retail and food service sales grew just 0.1 percent from September, less than analysts had expected, hitting $447 billion for the month.
Automobile sales, which have underpinned overall retail sales growth for the past two years, fell 0.5 percent by value, and electronics and appliances were down 0.4 percent month-on-month.
But spending on health care, home furnishings, and building and garden supplies was up significantly, as were purchases in restaurants and bars.
Year-on-year retail sales were just 1.7 percent higher, reflecting both the modest pace of growth in the US economy but also falling prices for many things, including fuel and clothing.
As evidence of the downward pressure on prices, the US producer price index in October fell 0.4 percent, after a slightly larger fall in September. That left the producer price index down 1.6 percent from a year ago.
Despite the relative weakness in the month, consumer spending on cars and trucks was still up 6.2 percent from a year ago.
And US shoppers continue to turn to the web for purchases. Online sales were up 7.1 percent from a year ago.
The real test for how confident US consumers are will come this month and December, with the holiday shopping season just getting under way.
Retailers are mixed in their forecasts for what to expect, with department store Macy's this week cutting its earnings forecast for the year by 10 percent, saying both US and international shoppers are buying less.