Updated September 2 at 6:02pm

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Retail sales probably dropped in October

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WASHINGTON - Sales at U.S. retailers probably fell in October for the first time in four months as consumers in the Northeast stayed away from auto dealers and shopping centers before and after superstorm Sandy, economists said before a report this week.

The projected 0.2 percent drop in purchases would follow a 1.1 percent gain in September, according to the median forecast of 72 economists surveyed by Bloomberg before Nov. 14 figures from the Commerce Department. Other reports may show the cost of living climbed more slowly and factory output rose.

General Motors Co. and Ford Motor Co. are among companies saying the drop in demand will probably be temporary as brighter job prospects, rising home prices and improving finances boost household confidence heading into the holiday shopping season. Sustained gains in consumer spending, which accounts for about 70 percent of the economy, are needed to overcome a slowdown in business investment.

“As long as the labor-market recovery is ongoing, then we’re going to see unremarkable, but steady, growth in consumer spending,” said Guy Berger, a U.S. economist at RBS Securities Inc. in Stamford, Conn. “Consumers are feeling better.”

The slowdown comes after retail sales in September and August marked the best back-to-back showing since late 2010.

Growing confidence may be playing a role. The Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan consumer sentiment gauge climbed to a five-year high this month, a report last week showed.

September sales

Part of that jump in purchases was the result of households snapping up Apple Inc.’s new iPhone 5. Support also came from car and light truck sales, which climbed in September to a 14.9 million pace, the fastest in more than four years, according to figures from Ward’s Automotive Group.

Those gains weren’t repeated in October, when Sandy, the biggest Atlantic storm in history, prevented potential shoppers from getting to stores. Auto demand dropped to a 14.2 million pace last month after Sandy slammed the East Coast during the auto industry’s busiest time of the month. Carmakers have said those sales should be made up by the end of the year.

Some retailers reported a pickup in October demand even with the adverse weather. Same-store sales at Macy’s Inc., the second-biggest U.S. department-store chain, rose 4.1 percent, topping the 4 percent average estimate of analysts surveyed by Retail Metrics Inc. Kohl’s Corp.’s same-store sales climbed 3.3 percent, beating estimates for a 0.8 percent gain.

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