Auto sales rose 0.5 percent in September, for example, despite a shortage in semiconductors and shipment delays that has hampered new car sales. The Bureau of Economic Analysis reported earlier that unit sales of automobiles were down 6.2 percent in September.
Rising fuel costs also likely lifted the sales total. Oil prices have climbed to their highest level in seven years recently amid a global energy crunch, and sales at gas stations rose 1.8 percent in September. “Since it’s the end of the travel season, I believe the increase at gas stations was driven by an increase in prices at the pump,” Ms. Bovino said.
Analysts at Bank of America, citing credit card data gathered by the bank, said on Friday that the increase in spending on gasoline, lodging, airfares and at grocery stores can largely be attributed to inflation.
The analysts wrote in a research note, however, that “all of the other major categories have seen real growth.”
The increase in prices could still become a drag on the economy. With prices still rising at a year-over-year pace of more than 5 percent, in part because of persistent supply chain disruptions caused by the pandemic, surveys of consumer sentiment show it is deteriorating, and that could presage a slump in spending.
The Conference Board’s Consumer Confidence Survey fell in September for the third consecutive month, and preliminary results from the University of Michigan’s monthly consumer sentiment survey, released Friday, also showed confidence dropped 1.9 percent, to 71.4, in early October. That’s the lowest reading since 2011.
To relieve some supply chain issues, President Biden announced Wednesday that the Port of Los Angeles would double its hours of operation, and major companies including Walmart, UPS and FedEx will expand their working hours in hopes of addressing backlogs. The moves come ahead of the holiday season and are intended to resolve a logjam that has slowed the shipment of manufactured goods from Asia.
The shortages could begin to hamper holiday sales — or prompt consumers to spend early to stay ahead of the bottlenecks, Ms. Bovino said.
“People are willing to spend, it’s just a question if they can find the items,” she said.