Retail Sales Hold Steady

Retail sales held steady in October as Americans pulled in their spending on cars and furniture but shelled out more for hardware, building supplies and clothing.

Total retail sales last month were unchanged at a seasonally adjusted $252.5 billion, the Commerce Department said Friday. That was in line with most analysts' expectations.

In September, sales fell by 0.1 percent; the government previously had estimated a 0.1 percent gain.

Retail sales have climbed or held steady most months of this year and last month were 8.5 percent higher than October 1998. The resilient U.S. economy, unemployment at a 29-year low of 4.1 percent and tame inflation have helped to give the nation's retailers a strong year.

But there have been some signs that the economy may be slowing. Consumer confidence has fallen in the last four months, home sales are down and consumers are using their credit cards less freely.

And, while consumer spending, which accounts for two-thirds of all economic activity, rose at a solid annual rate of 4.3 percent in the July-September quarter, it was down from 5.1 percent growth in the second quarter.

By Jeannine Aversa