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Gas, building supplies sales drive 1.6% rise in September retail sales

Retail sales rose a seasonally adjusted in 1.6% in September, driven by strong gas and motor vehicle sales, as well as sales at building materials and supplies stores, according to a report released by the U.S. Commerce Department on Oct. 13.

The increase in overall sales to $483.9 billion month over month was likely driven in part by recovery efforts related to Hurricane Harvey, which struck parts of Texas and Louisiana in late August, and Hurricane Irma, which hit parts of Florida in mid-September.

Sales at gas stations rose 5.8% in September to $39.41 billion, while sales at motor vehicle parts and dealers increased 3.6% to $100.06 billion over the same period. Sales at building material and garden equipment and supplies dealers rose 2.1% to $32.31 billion, another segment likely positively affected by home and property repair and replacement from the late summer storms.

The Commerce Department in its August monthly retail sales report noted that its usual estimation methods did not change as a result of the hurricanes but that companies reported the storm as having both positive and negative impacts on their sales data.

The 1.6% total sales increase fell short of Moody's forecast of 1.9% growth in sales for September, but Moody's Analytics Director Scott Hoyt told S&P Global Market Intelligence that the results were not unexpected.

"No major surprises. Growth was led by segments undoubtedly impacted by the hurricanes: gasoline stations, auto dealers and building supply stores." Outside of those three segments, sales were up 0.4%, in line with recent trends, he said. "The hurricane-inflated segments will likely see payback at some point over the next several months."

The August sales figures were revised upward slightly, from the preliminary estimate of a 0.2% decline to a revised 0.1% decline, to $476.5 billion.

Eight of the 13 types of businesses measured in the monthly report saw gains in September, including seasonally adjusted sales at food and beverage stores, which rose 0.8% to $60.38 billion, as well as a 0.5% increase in sales at nonstore retailers, which includes e-commerce.

Losses were seen in sales at electronics and appliance stores, which posted a decline of 1.1% to $7.74 billion in September, while sales at health and personal care stores fell by 0.4% to $27.64 billion over the same period. Sales dips were also seen at department stores and furniture stores, both of which saw drops of 0.4% in September.

The $483.9 billion September retail sales total marks a 4.4% year-over-year increase over September 2016.

The Commerce Department is scheduled to release its October monthly retail sales report Nov. 15.