WASHINGTON — Americans boosted their spending at retail businesses only modestly in August, indicating that economic growth remains sluggish. Consumers bought more cars, furniture and electronics last month, but held back on most other purchases.
Spending at retail businesses rose just 0.2 percent last month, the Commerce Department said Friday. Excluding volatile spending on autos, gas and building supplies, sales in August increased just 0.2 percent, or less than half July's 0.5 percent gain.
Consumers may be growing more cautious about spending, a trend that could slow economic growth in the July-September quarter. Slow wage growth, modest job gains and higher taxes have limited Americans' spending power.
"Consumer spending remained stuck in middle gear in the summer," said Sal Guatieri, an economist at BMO Capital Markets.
Guatieri forecasts that spending is growing at an annual rate of roughly 2 percent in the current July-September quarter, about the same as the previous quarter. That suggests economic growth is slowing to an annual rate of about 2 percent, down from the 2.5 percent annual rate that the government estimated for the April-June quarter.
Sales of autos and furniture both jumped 0.9 percent in August. Electronics and appliance sales rose 0.8 percent. But clothing sales dropped 0.8 percent and sporting goods sales also fell.
Many retailers said in recent weeks that shoppers have been reluctant to spend freely for back-to-school shopping. According to a tally of 10 retail chains by the International Council of Shopping Centers, sales rose 3.6 percent last month. That's down from a 6 percent gain in August 2012.