US retail sales point to brisk consumer spending

U.S. consumer spending advanced at a brisk clip in November as lower gasoline prices gave the holiday shopping season a boost, offering the latest sign of underlying momentum in the economy.

The Commerce Department said on Thursday retail sales excluding automobiles, gasoline, building materials and food services, increased 0.6 percent last month after an unrevised 0.5 percent rise in October.

The so-called core retail sales correspond most closely with the consumer spending component of gross domestic product.

Economists polled by Reuters had expected core retail sales to rise 0.4 percent last month.

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Last month's increase suggested consumer spending, which accounts for more than two-thirds of U.S. economic activity, was accelerating in the fourth quarter after slowing a bit in the July-September period.

It added to November's bullish employment report in painting a fairly upbeat picture of the economy, despite a recession in Japan and faltering growth in the euro zone, China and major emerging markets.

Core sales last month were lifted by a 1.2 percent jump in receipts at clothing stores, an indication that the holiday shopping season got off to a solid start, with retailers offering discounts to attract shoppers.

Receipts at online stores increased 1.0 percent. Sales at electronic and appliance stores advanced 0.9 percent, while receipts at furniture stores rose 0.5 percent. Sales at sporting goods stores rose as did receipts at health and personal care stores.

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While declining gasoline prices are stimulating consumer spending, they weighed on service station sales, with receipts falling 0.8 percent.

That decline was, however, offset by a 1.7 percent surge in automobile sales, which helped to lift overall retail sales by 0.7 percent in November. That was the largest gain since March and followed an upwardly revised 0.5 percent increase in October.

Economists had expected retail sales to rise 0.4 percent in November.

Retail sales excluding gasoline stations increased 0.9 percent. Sales building materials and garden equipment increased 1.4 percent. Sales at restaurants and bars rose 0.7 percent.

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