October Retail Sales Beat Estimates

Europe is still a mess, but for once Greece and Italy took a backseat to economic news here in the U.S. today. And the news was good: October retail sales were higher than expected.

Retail and food service sales in October improved 0.5 percent from September, the Commerce Department announced today. That was five times the 0.1 percent jump many economists anticipated.

Electronics and appliance stores were the biggest winners, surging 3.7 percent – the largest gain in that sector in two years. Sales at sporting goods stores, books stores and music stores were also up in October.

Furniture and department stores were among the few losers last month. Their sales actually dropped from September.

Asset allocation manager Paul Zemsky told Bloomberg Businessweek that the strong retail sales bode well for stocks.

“When the market isn’t focused on Europe, it will focus on stronger U.S. data,” Zemsky said. “Retail sales are starting the quarter stronger than anyone would have estimated back in August at the depth of the recession fears.”

The market made modest gains today on news of the positive economic data. The Dow was up 17 points to 12,096. Tech stocks led the way, perhaps boosted by the strong retail numbers for electronics. Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL) got the biggest bounce, rising more than 2.5 percent.

The better-than-expected October sales could mean we’re in for a killer holiday season. Perhaps if sales are strong enough in the next two months, it will make the economic news coming out of Europe a mere footnote in the minds of investors.

One can only hope.

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