Byline: Holly Haber

DALLAS--In a sign that the economy is improving, TeleCheck, a national check-authorization company, said Wednesday that retail sales rose 5.6 percent in September.
TeleCheck's findings are based on a comparison of the same-store dollar volume of authorized checks written at more than 15,000 stores. The sample includes department stores, discounters, mass merchants, specialty chains and home furnishing stores. The company said it authorizes checks at a total of 115,000 stores in the U.S. and Canada and processed $24 billion in checks last year.
"Retail sales are being propelled by steady improvements in consumer income, employment and spending levels, and represent a real gain after adjusting for inflation," said Dr. William Ford, senior economic adviser to TeleCheck.
According to the company, checks account for 37 percent of retail spending, compared to 13 percent for credit and debit cards. The remainder is cash.
On a regional basis, Mid-Atlantic states reported the biggest gain in September, with an average increase of 7.6 percent. The region was paced by a 10.7 percent jump in Virginia. New Jersey had a 7.5 percent gain. The Southeast ranked second with a 6.8 percent gain, led by a 9.6 percent increase in the Carolinas, 7.3 percent in Tennessee and 6.8 percent in Louisiana.
The West experienced a 6 percent gain. California topped the region with a 6.9 percent increase. The strongest cities in the state were San Diego, with a 7.7 percent gain, and Los Angeles, with a 7.5 percent jump.
The Southwest experienced a 5.5 percent overall gain, including a 5.9 percent increase in Texas.
The Northeast achieved a 5.1 percent increase led by New York, which gained 5.5 percent. The Midwest was the weakest region last month. It managed only a 3.3 percent average gain, but had a wide spread among the area's states. Ohio, for example, gained 6.5 percent, but Michigan edged up only 1.5 percent and Illinois was up just 1.4 percent.

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