Retail Sales Beat Forecasts, Point to Firming Growth

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Retail Sales
John Minchillo/AP
By Lucia Mutikani

WASHINGTON -- A gauge of U.S. consumer spending rose more than expected in October as households bought a range of goods, suggesting upside momentum in the economy early in the fourth quarter.

While demand is picking up, inflation remains muted. Other data Wednesday showed an unexpected fall in consumer prices last month, which should give the Federal Reserve room to maintain its current pace of bond purchases for a while.

Retail sales excluding automobiles, gasoline and building materials increased 0.5 percent last month after advancing 0.3 percent in September, the Commerce Department said.

Economists polled by Reuters had expected so-called core sales, which correspond most closely with the consumer spending component of gross domestic product, to rise 0.3 percent.

The better-than-expected increase in core retail sales suggested consumer spending would likely accelerate from a two-year low touched in the third quarter and probably limit downside risks to economic growth during the fourth quarter.

"Overall this suggests the consumers are supporting the current recovery," said Ryan Sweet, a senior economist at Moody's Analytics in West Chester, Pa.

Still, that isn't enough to generate some inflation in the economy. In a separate report, the Labor Department said its consumer price index slipped 0.1 percent last month as gasoline prices fell sharply, after rising 0.2 percent in September.

In the 12 months through October, the CPI increased 1 percent, the smallest gain since October 2009. It had advanced 1.2 percent in September.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast consumer prices to be unchanged last month.

U.S. stock index futures added to gains on the data, while Treasury bond prices extended losses.

Prices Held in Check

Stripping out the volatile energy and food components, the so-called core CPI edged up 0.1 percent, rising by the same margin for a third consecutive month. That could heighten concerns among some U.S. central bank officials about inflation being too low.

During the past 12 months, the core CPI increased 1.7 percent, matching the prior month's rise. The Fed targets 2 percent inflation, although it tracks a gauge that tends to run a bit below the CPI.

The absence of inflation in the economy suggests the Fed will probably stick to its monthly $85 billion bond buying program at least through early 2014 as it tries to stimulate demand through low interest rates.

Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke said Tuesday the U.S. central bank would maintain its ultra-easy monetary policy for as long as needed, %VIRTUAL-article-sponsoredlinks%adding that policymakers wanted evidence of durable job growth before scaling back bond purchases.

"The inflation backdrop continues to be supportive to the Fed's ultra-accommodative policy stance," said Millan Mulraine, senior economist at TD Securities (TD) in New York.

"With core inflation momentum continuing to drift lower there is evidence that the disinflationary impulse in core prices that has become a concern at the Fed is lingering."

Core retail sales last month were bolstered by sturdy gains in receipts at clothing, furniture, electronics and sporting goods shops, among others. Sales at electronics and appliance stores rose by the most since April, suggesting a residual boost from the introduction of Apple's (AAPL) new iPhone the previous month.

The report suggested little impact from a 16-day partial shutdown of the federal government in October, which economists had expected would dampen sales.

Sales at auto and parts dealers rebounded 1.3 percent after falling 1.2 percent in September. That helped to offset a drop in sales at gasoline stations and a fall in receipts at building materials and garden equipment shops, lifting overall retail sales 0.4 percent in October.

Retail sales were flat in September and economists had expected them to edge up 0.1 percent last month.

Retail Sales Beat Forecasts, Point to Firming Growth
We've said it many times already, and we'll say it once more: Black Friday is not the best time to buy toys for the holidays. Many will likely see discounts on Black Friday, and it may feel pretty good to get your shopping done early, but you won't love the sinking feeling you'll get when you see the same toys for even less about two weeks before Christmas.

Speaking of toys, if you're looking to buy a video game console this holiday, you'll get more bang for your buck by opting for a console deal that includes a few extras. In years past, the vast majority of Editors' Choice console deals consisted of holiday bundles that included premium accessories and two or three game titles. These were frequently discounted 30 percent to 40 percent off their retail prices.

A note about next-gen consoles: Unfortunately, we don't expect to see any discounts on the new Xbox One or PlayStation 4 this holiday, bundled or not. However, because these consoles are in high demand and will sell out quickly, we consider just finding one at list price -- even if it doesn't come bundled with a game or controller -- to be a "deal."

Black Friday is an excellent time to buy a new TV, as we predict a variety of size categories will hit their lowest price points. But don't expect the best deals to be tagged with name brands. Typically, the rock-bottom prices apply to third-tier manufacturers; brand-name TVs tend to see their best price of the year in late December as manufacturers look to clear stock before revealing 2014 models.
There's no shortage of digital camera deals around Black Friday, but premium current-generation cameras are just a few months away from being replaced by a new line of 2014 models. If you're eyeing a brand new digital SLR, we recommend waiting until after CES and into February for 2013 cameras to become "old," and thus receive aggressive discounts from retailers.
On Black Friday, we'll likely see some of the best apparel coupons of the year from a variety of retailers. However, if a new coat or jacket is on your list, it's smarter to hold off until January when winter apparel is added to clearance sales that will receive much deeper base discounts. We will inevitably find additional stacking coupons then too, which make end-of-season sales even better for your wallet.
While not typically on anyone's "To Buy on Black Friday" list, Christmas decor tends to end up in-cart on impulse buys. Sure, that string of lights or holiday wreath might be on sale, but deals on Christmas items get better the closer we get to the holiday itself -- and of course the best deals appear after the holiday. Last year, we listed the Musical Charlie Brown Christmas Tree in early November for $19 shipped. On Black Friday it fell to $15 shipped. By Christmas Eve it was available for $9 at Kmart.
For those of you looking to get a leg up on any fitness New Year's resolutions, you should resolve to wait to buy any fitness equipment. During Black Friday weekend 2012, we listed just two Editors' Choice fitness deals, while December and January each saw more than five times that amount on a variety of gear including heart rate monitors, ab machines, ellipticals, and yoga equipment.
We're flagging this category "Do Not Buy" for the entire holiday season. Much like Christmas items, there will be lots of sales advertising shiny, metallic objects perfect for him and her. But the discounts on jewelry around the winter holidays are no better than those around Valentine's Day, when baubles are at their most in-demand. Last year, we posted just four Editors' Choice watch deals and three Editors' Choice jewelry deals from Black Friday through Cyber Monday.
The stylish second-generation iPad mini with Retina will set you back the same amount as an iPad 2 ($399), and if the iPad mini Retina follows the price pattern as its predecessor, it won't see a 10% discount until several months from now. While there's an off-chance that an attention-seeking retailer could offer an iPad mini Retina Black Friday deal, the original, first-generation iPad mini is a better buy this holiday season: the Apple Store has already discounted its retail price to $299, and it could drop to as low as $269 in the coming months.
For the past two years, no new Kindle Fire HD tablet has seen any significant discounts on Black Friday, likely because the tablets are already so cheap. The device has fallen in price, since the addition of the Kindle HDX to the lineup meant that Amazon dropped the price of the Kindle Fire HD to $139. But this dirt-cheap alternative to the higher price points just means that Amazon doesn't need to discount its tablets, which it already sells "at cost." And this week's limited time only 15 percent off coupon doesn't change that; it's the first coupon we've ever seen for new Kindles, and a one-time offer in celebration of the FAA's decision to lift the ban on electronics use during takeoff and landing.
While we don't know anyone who doesn't appreciate a seasonal throw blanket, we don't recommend giving them as gifts this year unless you've got a stock of them in the closet from last season. Not only does holiday decor get cheaper after the holiday in question, but bedding and blankets fall to their lowest prices of the year come January and February during "White Sales," which have been a colorful tradition since the 1950s.
Perhaps better received than throw blankets, gift baskets and wine subscriptions are especially popular during the holidays. But as the giver, you'll get a better deal on specialty foods (i.e. Omaha Steak gift bundles, fruit baskets, and assorted baked goods) if you wait until December; last year we saw twice as many Editors' Choice deals close to Christmas than around Thanksgiving.

If you have your sights set on a trip to California or Florida, by all means purchase airfare around Black Friday and even closer to Christmas; last year we saw up to 50 percent off coupons from Frontier, JetBlue, and Virgin America. However, if it's an international getaway you're after, we advise you to hold off on booking your flight until the new year. Last year, we saw zero Editors' Choice airfare deals between Thanksgiving and New Year's. But in the first two months of the year, Air Canada offered the lowest base rate we'd seen for flights to Toronto; JetBlue took 80 percent off select flights to the Caribbean; and Lufthansa offered roundtrip fares to Europe for $471.

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