Retail and food services sales increased 0.2%, to $424.5 billion, for July, according to a Commerce Department report (link opens as PDF) released today.

After bumping up a revised 0.6% in June, analysts had expected a slower growth rate, but their 0.3% estimate proved slightly overoptimistic. 

But top-line numbers look better when accounting for more volatile automobile and gasoline sales. Auto sales dropped off 1% for July (after surging 2.9% in June), putting retail sales, less motor vehicles, at 0.5% growth compared to analysts' 0.4% expectations. When excluding gasoline's 0.9% month-over-month gain as well, retail sales increased by 0.4% for July.


Outside of those two sectors, sporting goods, hobby, book & music stores led sales with a 1% increase, while furniture stores lagged with a 1.4% drop.

Over the last year, retail sales are up 5.4%, primarily due to an 11.8% increase in motor vehicles & parts dealers, an 8.8% boost in nonstore retailers, and a 7.9% bump in building material & garden equipment sales.

Some big retail chains have reported that shoppers seemed to be holding off on back-to-school shopping in July. Revenue at stores opened at least a year rose 3.5% compared with a year ago, according to a tally of 11 retailers by the International Council of Shopping Centers.

-- Material from The Associated Press was used in this report.