U.S. data points to strong spending ahead of holiday shopping frenzy

By Reuters

Nov 14, 2014 08:46 PM EST

Most U.S. retailers reported strong sales in October, a sign American consumers were spending with more gusto and could help keep the economy growing at a brisk pace.

Other data on Friday showed consumer sentiment rising to a seven-year high this month, also positive for the spending outlook as the country nears its traditional period of frenzied holiday shopping.

A key measure of retail sales, which account for about one third of consumer spending, snapped back from a weak September, buoyed by bigger receipts for clothing and sporting goods.

Economists said that suggested fundamental strength even as a drop in gasoline prices held the gain in overall sales to just 0.3 percent. Receipts at gasoline stations dropped 1.5 percent.

"(The) numbers bode well for the crucial holiday shopping season," said Paul Diggle, an economist at Capital Economics in London. Americans turn their shopping into overdrive in late November ahead of December's Christmas holiday.

The key reading that strips out volatile elements like gasoline, autos, building materials and food services climbed a higher-than-expected 0.5 percent. The gain bolstered the view that U.S. consumers are ready to play a bigger role in supporting the recent acceleration in economic growth.

Other data showed an improving jobs market and lower gasoline prices lifted consumer spirits in early November. The Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan sentiment index rose to 89.4, its highest level since July 2007.

Another component of the index, however, showed Americans' expectations for long-term inflation fell, a potentially worrisome development for Federal Reserve officials who would like to move unusually low inflation higher.

Separately, Labor Department data showed import prices fell 1.3 percent in September, as cheaper oil and a strong dollar made it less expensive for Americans to buy foreign goods.

Slowing economic growth outside the United States has pushed oil prices lower in recent months, a boon for American shoppers.

"Consumers are spending what they are saving at the gas pump," said Camilla Sutton, a currency strategist at Scotiabank in Toronto.

The dollar has gained more than 10 percent against the currencies of U.S. trading partners since June on expectations a stronger economy will lead the Fed to raise interest rates.

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