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Retail sales post strong rebound in September

1.5% climb best since March, despite rising fuel prices and cloudy jobs outlook

WASHINGTON -- Shoppers rediscovered their urge to splurge in September, catapulting retail sales by the largest percentage gain in six months. Industrial activity was restrained, meanwhile, partly because of hurricanes.

The fresh batch of reports released yesterday suggest the economy continues to move forward even as energy prices soar, analysts said. Yet, oil prices now surging close to $55 a barrel raise uncertainties about how consumers and businesses will behave in coming months, they said.

On the retail front, sales jumped 1.5 percent in September, the best showing since March and a turnaround from the 0.2 percent drop in August, the Commerce Department said. The buying increase seen in September suggested that consumers, the economy's lifeblood, still have an inclination to spend despite the galloping energy prices and a questionable jobs outlook, both of which have weighed on their confidence.

September's strength was led by a rebound in auto sales, but shoppers also showed a hearty appetite to spend on a wide variety of goods -- electronics and appliances, building materials, garden supplies, and clothing.

The Federal Reserve, in a separate report, said industrial production edged up by 0.1 percent in September. The subdued showing was blamed partly on recent hurricanes that pummeled parts of the country, which curtailed activity in the oil and gas sector, petroleum refining, and chemical production, the Fed said.

September's small rise followed an outright decline of 0.1 percent in industrial output in August, a figure that had been reported initially as a 0.1 percent increase.

In another report, wholesale prices rose 0.1 percent in September, after falling 0.1 percent in August, the Labor Department said. Economists said the figures continue to show that inflation poses no danger to the economy now.

Excluding sales of automobiles, which can swing widely from month to month, sales by all other merchants rose by a brisk 0.6 percent in September.

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