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January 12, 2018 10:45 AM, EST

December Retail Sales Gain Caps Robust Holiday Season

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U.S. retail sales increased in December for a fourth month, indicating strong consumer demand throughout the holiday season, according to Commerce Department figures released Jan. 12.

Highlights of Retail Sales for December

• Overall sales rose 0.4% (estimated 0.5%) after a revised 0.9% November gain (previous 0.8%).

• Sales excluding motor-vehicle dealers also increased 0.4% after climbing an upwardly revised 1.3%.

• So-called retail-control group sales, which are used to calculate GDP and exclude food services, auto dealers, building materials stores and gasoline stations, rose 0.3% following an upwardly revised 1.4% advance that was largest since 2005.

• 9 of 13 major retail categories showed stronger results.

Key Takeaways

The gain in sales, which included increased receipts at non-store retailers, furniture outlets and building supply centers, capped a robust holiday-shopping season fueled by low unemployment, a more confident consumer, steady income growth and discounting.

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The average gain in sales over the last two months was the strongest for any November and December since 2010. The upward revision to retail sales excluding motor vehicles reflected a noted pickup at Internet retailers.

What’s more, receipts within the retail-control group increased at an 8.9% annualized rate in the fourth quarter, up from the 3.4% pace in the three months through September.

Inflation-adjusted consumer spending on goods and services rose at a 2.2% annual rate in the third quarter, the government’s latest GDP report showed. Economists project real household outlays advanced 3% in the final three months of 2017, according to a Bloomberg survey conducted over the past week.

Other Details

• Retail sales rose 4.2% last year, the most since 2014, while purchases excluding autos climbed 4.3%, the strongest since 2011.

• Excluding automobiles and gasoline, sales rose 0.4% in December after a 1.2% jump the previous month.

• Receipts at gasoline stations were little changed from November.

• Non-store retail sales rose 1.2% after a 4.2% surge.

• Furniture-store sales climbed 0.6% last month, building materials up 1.2%.