Retail sales in the United States posted their fourth straight monthly increase. The pace for July rose less than the previous month's increase, but sales are well ahead of the level from a year ago.

The U.S. Commerce Department reports a 0.2% increase compared to June, compared to an upwardly revised hike of 0.6% in June from May. Compared to the same time a year ago, July retail sales are 5.4% higher.

Leading the July increase was a 13.3% increase in sales at auto and other motor vehicle dealers compared to a year ago. Non-store retailers reported an increase of 8.8% during the same period.

Despite the increase in July not being as strong as the month before, some analysts say there is reason for optimism. They point out consumer spending, which accounts for about 70% of total U.S. economic activity, is still moving higher despite tax increases the first of the year and federal budget cuts hitting some workers.

Also, growth in the U.S. economy has been on the rise, albeit at a low level of expansion: a 1.1% annual rate in the first quarter of the year, followed by a 1.7% rate in the second quarter. Unemployment in July fell to a four and a half year low.