Higher spending on cars and fuel saw US retail sales edge up month-on-month in August, according to Department of Commerce data released on Friday (14 September) - although clothing sales fell as shoppers continued to remain cautious.  

Stripping out the impact of automobiles, retail trade sales rose 0.9% from July to August, and were 4.4% higher than in August last year, the data showed.

Sales at clothing and clothing accessories stores were 0.1% lower than in July, but were 5.8% higher than in August last year. For department stores, the figures were up 0.1% from both the previous month and year; and for sporting goods stores (also including books and music), August sales were flat with a month earlier and up 5.8% on year.

Calculations from the National Retail Federation (NRF), meanwhile, put August retail sales (excluding automobiles, gas stations and restaurants) 0.2% ahead of July and 3.8% higher year-over-year.

"The retail industry continues to demonstrate its strength and resiliency during this fragile economic time," NRF president and CEO Matthew Shay said.

"However consumers and retail companies continue to face many questions and challenges, from stubbornly high unemployment and stagnant incomes to depressed housing prices and the looming fiscal cliff, all playing into overall economic uncertainty and declining consumer confidence.

"Adding to this anxiety, retailers are now preparing for a potential labour disruption at the East and Gulf Coast ports, which may interfere with the all-important holiday shopping season," Shay said.

"While retailers continue to witness sustained sales growth, consumers remain cautious about their discretionary expenditures," NRF chief economist Jack Kleinhenz added.

"Consumers have carried much of the growth during the economic recovery, despite high food and gas costs. Though the economy isn't backsliding, growth continues to be a sore point."