Will strong fall help retail recover from bummer summer?

It was an unhappy summer for U.S. retailers, but the outlook is slowly improving. Figures released on Tuesday were better than expected and gave experts heart that the U.S. economy -- 70 percent of which is made up by consumer spending -- may be on the mend. And sales figures will only look better as the year goes on because we'll be comparing them to numbers from last fall, when the economy nearly ground to a halt in the wake of the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy and stock market crash.

Most predictions had called for lukewarm sales in August, as parents held the line on back to school spending. A last-minute surge just before Labor Day gave retailers hope, and recent figures showing consumer debt dropping and the national savings rate rising are making investors optimistic that the economy may be about to turn a corner.