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Retail Sales Up but Some Consumers Still Cautious

The Exchange

Retail sales for July were the strongest in five months as data show Americans opening up their wallets and spending more on items such as cars, furniture, electronics and clothes.

In a week with a heavy retail focus, we've also seen strong earnings so far for major players such as Home Depot (HD), Saks (SKS) and Michael Kors (KORS); later this week we'll get reports from Target (TGT), Wal-Mart (WMT), Sears (SHLD) and the Gap (GPS). Wall Street rallied early on the news, along with better-than-expected second quarter GDP reports from Germany and France (although the region as a whole did contract), but lost steam by the close.

The latest economic data follow a relatively strong jobs report for July and come amid an earnings season that has seem some healthy showings.

So is the U.S. consumer -- such a crucial part of the economy and GDP growth -- on the road to a comeback? Are Americans set to spend, spend, spend?

If Tuesday's Yahoo! Finance poll is any indication, you might say, "Not so fast." When asked, "Do you feel it's safe to spend or are you trying to save money?" our poll respondents overwhelmingly said "I'm trying to save" rather than "I'm spending." More than 28,000 poll-takers chose the saving option, at 79%, while only a bit over 7,600 respondents said they were spending.

Obviously, with many consumers still feeling the effects of the great recession and fearing what might still be down the road in the U.S. and overseas (and also wondering what fresh stimulus lies ahead -- or not), not all of them are spending so freely. We'll get more of a picture of how the American consumer is feeling when the back-to-school shopping season is over.

In the meantime, what do you think? Is the consumer back or is there a long way to go?