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Chart of the Day: Why were retail sales so good?

You wouldn't know it from the dozens of retailers warning of a weak Christmas, but it turns out retail sales were actually pretty good in December.

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. But what were they buying?

Source: Census Bureau

The latest tables from the Census Bureau show auto sales decelerating but most other line items growing.

—Reuters contributed to this report.

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