US retail sales continued to rise in June, but while consumers spent more on their cars, in bars and restaurants, and on furniture and building supplies, it was a month of mixed performance for clothing, sporting goods and in department stores.

Figures released by the Commerce Department today (16 July) showed the value of overall sales rose 0.5% month-on-month, and were 6.6% higher than June last year. Excluding purchases of autos and gasoline, sales climbed 0.3% – but were down sharply from the 1.3% gain in May.

The data also showed signs of weakness, with sales at clothing and clothing accessories stores in June falling 2.5% from the prior month, but a strong 4.0% uplift year-on-year. For department stores, there was a decline of 1.8% on May, but sales were flat with last year. And for sporting goods stores (also including books and music), the figures showed a marked decline of 3.2% on the previous month, and a drop of 4.7% on last year.

The National Retail Federation (NRF) said June's figures showed economic growth was continuing despite the US trade war with China and other countries.

"This is a healthy retail sales report and consistent with underlying economic momentum that has fuelled a steady run of retail sales increases," said NRF chief economist Jack Kleinhenz.

"The big question is whether households can continue this spending pace, which is helping drive the current economic cycle. We think they can, but the big risk to the outlook is the trade war, which could raise prices while reducing consumer confidence and household buying power."

Higher fuel prices boosted the retail sales results, according to Neil Saunders, managing director of GlobalData Retail, but may also have reduced some of the benefits from tax cuts and modest wage growth.

"This has made consumers a little more careful about their spending on other things, and retail has been an obvious area in which to show relative caution."

However, consumer confidence remained robust throughout most of June and spending on experiences like eating out or other leisure activities accelerated.

"This really comes down to the experience economy versus the product economy, with the former being a much more compelling investment for many households. In our view, a lot of retailers are still not providing a good enough experience or a compelling enough range of products to persuade consumers to be more profligate," Saunders adds.