Feb 8 (Reuters) - U.S. retail sales are expected to rise between 3.8 percent and 4.4 percent in 2018, the National Retail Federation (NRF) said on Thursday, citing higher consumer confidence, low unemployment rates and rising wages.
Retail sales rose 3.9 percent in 2017 to $3.53 trillion, according to the U.S. Census bureau's preliminary estimate, exceeding NRF's forecast of between 3.2 percent and 3.8 percent.
"A robust holiday season for retail sales is just one of many barometers that points to a consumer that is clearly feeling positive about their financial health," NRF President and Chief Executive Matthew Shay said in a statement.
Online and other non-store sales, which are included in the overall number, are expected to increase between 10 and 12 percent, the retail industry group said. (http://reut.rs/2BjRneb)
"Barring any significant back up in interest rates or financial crisis that slows the economy, it is quite possible that 2018 retail sales hit the high end and top 2014's 4.3 percent growth," said Ken Perkins, founder of research firm Retail Metrics.
The retail sales numbers exclude automobiles, gasoline stations and restaurants, NRF said.
While demand will be elevated across the whole of 2018, GlobalData Retail Managing Director Neil Saunders warned that spending will soften towards the end of the year due to tougher comparatives and waning benefit of bonuses. (Reporting by Vibhuti Sharma and Uday Sampath Kumar in Bengaluru; Editing by Anil D'Silva)