U.S. retail sales flat in July after 3 months of solid gains

WASHINGTON (AP) – U.S. retail sales were unchanged in July from the previous month, a sign that consumers were cautious after three months of solid gains. The Commerce Department says Americans spent less at clothing shops, sporting goods stores and electronics and appliance outlets. Spending at grocery stores fell by the most in more than five years. Those declines were offset by big increases in auto sales and online and catalog sales. Much of the overall weakness also reflected a steep fall in gas station sales, which largely reflects lower prices rather than lower demand. Excluding gasoline, retail sales rose 0.2 percent. Steady hiring and some signs of rising wages have boosted Americans’ confidence. That encouraged more consumer spending, which jumped in the April-June quarter by the most in 18 months.