credit-debit-debt

U.S. retail sales rose at a solid pace last month, as bullish consumers bought more cars, furniture and clothes.

Read: U.S. GDP in last 2 quarters best since 2014

Retail sales increased 0.2% in October, the Commerce Department said Wednesday, after a healthy 1.9% gain in the previous month. September’s gain was the largest in two-and-a-half years and was driven by big increases in auto and gas sales in the wake of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

Americans are spending more freely as confidence in the economy has jumped in the past year and the unemployment rate is at a 17-year low. Excluding gas station sales, which fell sharply as prices dropped, retail sales rose 0.4% last month.

Sales gains were widespread. Consumers spent more at electronics, grocery, clothing and sporting goods stores. Restaurants and bars reported a healthy 0.8% increase — the biggest gain since January.

CPI increased only 0.1%. Despite that weak result, ex-food and energy was a tick stronger at 0.2%, notes CIBC senior economist Royce Mendes in a note.

“The annual rate of core inflation now stands a tick higher than last month, at 1.8%,” he says. “Although that’s not particularly hot, today’s readings will continue to see the Fed on track to hike rates in December.”

Read: Don’t try to predict long-term rates

Credit is king

Americans are boosting their spending, but incomes are rising only modestly. That has pushed more people to borrow to finance their purchases, particularly of autos. That has renewed worries about whether U.S. households can stay on top of their burgeoning debt loads.

Auto loans and credit card debt rose sharply in the July-September quarter, according to a report Tuesday by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. That pushed total household debt to a record high of nearly $13 trillion.

The proportion of Americans falling behind on their credit card bills rose to 4.6%, the New York Fed said, up from 4.4% a year earlier. The share of auto loans that are 90 days or more overdue rose to 2.4% from 2.3%.

Read: Americans worse off compared to 1998

Still, low interest rates mean that U.S. households’ debt payments, on average, aren’t historically high.

Car sales up, gas prices down

Gas station sales fell 1.2% last month, the retail sales report showed, mostly because prices nationwide dropped 2.4%. That is a reversal from September, when gas prices spiked 13% in the wake of the hurricanes, which disrupted refineries on the Gulf Coast.

Auto sales rose 0.7%, a solid gain after a huge jump of 4.6% in September. Sales are likely still elevated by the impact of the hurricanes, which destroyed thousands of cars in Texas and Florida that are steadily being replaced.

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Originally published on Advisor.ca
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