What retail, auto and restaurant sales say about the consumer

A weak retail sales report for July and an earnings miss by retail giant Macy's has raised fears about the state of the consumer. However, a broad look at several sectors paints a more complex picture.

On Wednesday, the Commerce Department said retail sales, which had increased 0.2 percent in June, were held back by a second straight month of declines in receipts at auto dealers, as well as weak sales of electronics, furniture and appliances.

Also Wednesday, Macy's cut its full-year same store sales forecast to 1.5 percent to 2 percent from 2.5 percent to 3 percent. The retailer said a 3.3 percent rise in second-quarter sales would not make up for weakness in the first quarter, when harsh winter weather kept shoppers away.

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Retail analyst Jan Rogers Kniffen, a CNBC contributor and CEO of J. Rogers Kniffen Worldwide said Wednesday on CNBC's "Street Signs" that the Macy's news is "worrying" for retail in general because if it's that tough for Macy's, it's that tough for everybody. He is cautious about what retailers will report for the second quarter.

Shoppers at Macy's flagship store in New York.
Jin Lee | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Shoppers at Macy's flagship store in New York.

That said, Kniffen said: "I am convinced the back end of this year is going to see the best retail apparel sales in the last five years. ... It's already started with back to school."

The consumer is very confident if automobile sales are any indication. The average transaction price is somewhere more than $31,000 and consumers are trading up for connectivity and technology. They're also stretching out their loans.

Tammy Darvish, vice president of Darcars Automotive Group in Maryland, said she is expecting a much bigger increase in sales in the back half of the year. She's also seeing a change in what consumers are looking for.

Shoppers are "very focused on making decisions that are more practical and more logical than emotional. Whereas in the past maybe purchasing decisions on vehicles were more emotion-based," Darvish also said Wednesday on "Street Signs."

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Consumers are being very conservative when it comes to dining out, Wunderlich Securities restaurant analyst Bob Derrington also said on the program. That has left restaurants "struggling to hit the bull's-eye of the target."

"Consumers want to dine out more," he said. The issue is that they are pressed for time and have to find economies for the time and money they spend.

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"Restaurants are trying to change what they do to try and meet those demands."

That means making food more portable and speeding up service, for example. Derrington thinks Chipotle Mexican Grill has found the right combination of food, price and quick service.

–By CNBC's Michelle Fox. CNBC's Phil LeBeau and Reuters contributed to this report.