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U.S. retail sales rebounded sharply in October as purchases of motor vehicles and building materials surged, likely driven by rebuilding efforts in areas devastated by Hurricane Florence.
The Commerce Department said on Thursday retail sales increased 0.8 percent last month also as households bought electronics and appliances. Data for September was revised down to show retail sales slipping 0.1 percent instead of nudging up 0.1 percent as previously reported.
Economists polled by Reuters had forecast retail sales increasing 0.5 percent in October. Retail sales in October rose 4.6 percent from a year ago.
Excluding automobiles, gasoline, building materials and food services, retail sales increased 0.3 percent last month. These so-called core retail sales correspond most closely with the consumer spending component of gross domestic product.
Data for September was revised lower to show core retail sales rising 0.3 percent instead of gaining 0.5 percent as previously reported.
A strong labor market, characterized by a 3.7 percent unemployment rate, is underpinning consumer spending. The lowest unemployment rate in nearly 49 years is boosting wages, with annual wage growth recording its biggest increase in 9-1/2 years in October.
The retail sales report suggested consumer spending retained most of its strong momentum at the start of the fourth quarter, likely keeping the economy on a strong growth path, despite the trade deficit expected to deteriorate further and the housing market continuing to weaken.
Consumer spending, which accounts for more than two-thirds of U.S. economic activity, grew at its fastest pace in nearly four years in the third quarter. The economy grew at a 3.5 percent annualized rate in the July-September quarter.
October's strength in retail sales bodes well ahead of the holiday shopping season. The Commerce Department said it could not isolate the impact of Hurricane Florence, which lashed North and South Carolina in mid-September, on retail sales.
However, auto sales jumped 1.1 percent last month likely as residents in the affected areas replaced damaged cars. Auto sales fell 0.1 percent in September. Sales at building material stores surged 1.0 percent in October, probably boosted by rebuilding efforts in areas affected by Florence.
Sales at clothing stores gained 0.5 percent after climbing 0.8 percent in September. Online and mail-order sales rose 0.4 percent in October after rising 1.3 percent in the prior month.
Receipts at furniture stores fell 0.3 percent. Receipts at service stations rose 3.5 percent, likely reflecting higher gasoline prices.
Spending at hobby, musical instrument and book stores rose 0.5 percent last month. But spending at restaurants and bars slipped 0.2 percent after dropping 1.5 percent the prior month.