A gauge of U.S. consumer spending rose more than expected in December, suggesting the economy gathered steam at the end of last year and was poised for stronger growth in 2014.
The Commerce Department said on Tuesday retail sales excluding automobiles, gasoline, building materials and food services, increased 0.7 percent last month after a 0.2 percent rise in November.
The so-called core sales correspond most closely with the consumer spending component of gross domestic product. Economists polled by Reuters had expected core retail sales to rise 0.3 percent in December.
The increase suggested consumer spending accelerated in the fourth quarter from the third quarter. It was also the latest indication of strong momentum in the economy at the end of 2013.
Core sales last month were lifted by a 1.8 percent rise in receipts at clothing stores. Sales at food and beverage stores recorded their largest increase in seven years. There were also increases in online store sales.
A cold snap during the month likely contributed to holding down sales of automobiles. Receipts at auto dealers fell 1.8 percent, the largest decline since October 2012. Auto sales had risen 1.9 percent in November.
That limited overall retail sales to a 0.2 percent gain in December. Retail sales increased 0.4 percent in November.
Economists had expected retail sales to edge up 0.1 percent last month.
Retail sales excluding automobiles rose 0.7 percent. Sales of furniture, sporting goods, building materials and garden equipment and electronic appliances fell.
Import prices a non-event
In a separate report, U.S. import prices were unexpectedly flat in December as the cost of petroleum fell marginally, still showing no signs of imported inflation pressures.
November's import prices were revised to show a 0.9 percent decline rather than the previously reported 0.6 percent, the Labor Department said on Tuesday.
Economists polled by Reuters had forecast import prices rising 0.3 percent in December. In the 12 months through December, import prices fell 1.3 percent.
Import prices excluding petroleum were also flat in December after edging up 0.1 percent in November. Compared to December last year, they were down 1.3 percent.
The Labor Department report also showed export prices rose 0.4 percent in December after inching up 0.1 percent in November.