A shopper carries a bag advertising a sale.
A shopper carries a bag advertising a sale. - 


Lisa Napoli: The Commerce Department said this morning that retail sales were better than expected last month. They rose 0.6 percent in September. Alisa Roth says the retail picture may not be as rosy -- or as green -- as it seems.

Alisa Roth: Cars, it seems, were a hot item last month. And no wonder -- dealers were offering all kinds of rebates, discounts and other bargains.

Retail analyst Eric Beder says the cars mask a different story:

Eric Beder: It was a pretty weak consumer spending environment for apparel and most of the other items.

Take auto parts and vehicles out of the calculation, and retail sales only went up
0.4 percent. Those slow sales turned up in yesterday's lousy quarterly reports from many of the nation's biggest retailers.

Analysts blame warm September weather for some of shoppers' reluctance -- nobody's interested in buying heavy fall sweaters when it still feels like summer outside.

But Beder says anxiety about the state of the economy's not doing anything to get people in an acquisitive mood.

Beder: They've seen someone two or three blocks down that might have a house that's in foreclosure, and it makes them think about it before they spend their money.

The real question, though, is whether consumers are spending more than they were last year. And the answer is no.

In New York, I'm Alisa Roth for Marketplace.