August retail sales rise

WASHINGTON Advance estimates of U.S. retail and food services sales for August rose 0.4% to $363.7 billion from July, and 3.6% above the same period last year, the Census Bureau reported Tuesday.

Total sales for the June through August 2010 period were up 4.7% from the year-ago period. Sales at grocery stores totaled about $43.83 million, up from $42.79 million in August 2009. Health and personal care stores also gained momentum, earning $22.07 million for the month, compared with $21.11 million in August 2009. Although estimates for pharmacies and drug stores are not available in the Census Bureau's report, sales in July totaled nearly $18.6 million, up from nearly $18.2 million in July 2009.

These estimates are adjusted for seasonal variations and holiday and trading-day differences, but not for price changes.

In response to the sales report release, the National Retail Federation said retailers' aggressive promotions and state sales tax holidays aided sales during the summer, otherwise known as back-to-school season.

While NRF’s 2010 Back to School survey — which was released in July — projected back-to-school spending to hit $55.12 billion this year, the lobbying group noted that shoppers still are cautious.

“Most Americans are in a much better financial position than a year ago, but they are still spending cautiously, looking for bargains and comparing prices before buying,” said NRF president and CEO Matthew Shay. “After leveraging aggressive promotions to bring in back-to-school shoppers, retailers are putting the finishing touches on promotions and pricing for the upcoming holiday season.”