Lauren B. Cooper  writes in the Birmingham Business Journal that retail sales – excluding automobile sales boosted by Cash for Clunkers – saw its first gain in six months, a sign consumers may be turning the corner, according to a leading retail group.

The National Retail Federation said retail sales rose 0.7 percent in August over July, but fell 4.3 percent from the same month last year. Those figures do not include auto, gas and restaurant sales, a news release said.

Retail sales including autos, gas and restaurants rose 2.7 percent for the month, but declined 5.9 percent for the year, according to the U.S. Commerce Department.

“Many American who traded in their vehicles have become saddled with monthly car payments, which reduces the amount of money they’re able to spend in other areas,” said Rosalind Wells, chief economist for the NRF. “As a result, it remains to be seen how the Cash for Clunkers program will impact traditional retail sales.”

However, Wells said, it’s encouraging to see momentum building as retailers prepare for the holiday season.

Here’s how different retail sectors fared during August, according to the NRF:

• Electronic and appliance store sales rose 1.1 percent in August, compared to July, and decreased 10.7 percent over August 2008.

• Sales of clothing and clothing accessories increased 2.4 percent for the month, but fell 5.9 percent for the year.

• Health and personal care store sales saw a 0.4 percent monthly gain and a 2.7 percent yearly gain.

• Sporting goods, hobby, book and music store sales rose 2.3 percent for the month, but decreased 1.7 percent for the year.

Birmingham Business Journal