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WASHINGTON, DC-Despite an increase in gas prices—which several retailers have blamed for lagging sales—a US Census Bureau report released yesterday revealed that consumers have actually increased August spending by 7.9% compared to the same period last year.

According to the report, advance estimates of US retail and food services sales for August totaled $350.1 billion, which is adjusted for seasonal variation and holiday and trading-day differences but not for price changes. Total sales for the June through August 2005 period were up 9.4% from the same period a year ago.

The gains, compared to a relatively weak August last year, were stronger than the National Retail Federation had been expecting. “Though gas prices are a concern, the August report is further proof that it is unwise to base retail sales projections on one economic indicator,” says NRF’s chief economist Rosalind Wells in response to the news. “Retailers who were anxious about the upcoming holiday season may be breathing a little easier.”

Gas stations experienced the largest year-over-year sales increase with a 29.3% spike. Building material and garden equipment suppliers were a distant second with an 8.4% jump, and health and personal care stores improved 8.1%. Other notable categories included restaurants, which climbed 7%; general merchandising stores, improving 6.7%; and furniture and home furnishings stores, which rose 5.6% compared to last year.

Although the commerce department could not quantify the effect of Hurricane Katrina on August sales, information generated from the 2002 Economic Census shows that areas affected by the hurricane play a minimal role in the national retail sales statistics.

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