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Holiday Sales Rose 4.4%, Weaker Than Forecast: U.S. Retail Group

Holiday sales came in weaker-than-expected, as unseasonably warm weather and a softer housing market dampened shoppers' spending.

The National Retail Federation said that total holiday spending rose 4.4% from last year, below its initial forecast of 5% growth. Figures exclude automobile, gas station and restaurant sales.

"Unseasonably warmer weather and the slower housing market had a clear impact on consumer spending," NRF's chief economist, Rosalind Wells, said in a statement. "NRF expects these subdued gains to continue into the first half of 2007."

December retail sales rose 3.9% from last year and increased 0.4% from November, according to the NRF. November retail sales were revised lower to a 5.1% jump, from an initial report of 6.3%.

Meanwhile, the Commerce Department reported stronger-than-expected December retail sales on Friday, but figures include categories such as autos, gas stations and restaurants.

Retail sales rose 0.9% in December, and they were even stronger than anticipated when autos were stripped out, the Commerce Dept. report showed, pointing to a healthy consumer appetite. The December gain was the largest since July and better than the 0.7% increase analysts had been expecting.

Electronic and appliances stores saw December sales rise 13.7% from last year, given strong holiday purchases of high-end electronics including video game systems and plasma televisions, the NRF said. Health and personal care stores were also strong, up 8.6% from last year.

Sales in clothing and accessories rose 3%. Building material and garden equipment sales fell 4.3% from last year, as the sluggish housing market weighed on results.

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