Seasonally adjusted U.S. retail and food services sales increased 0.5% to $415.7 billion for December, according to a Commerce Department report [link opens in PDF] released today.
Market analysts had expected a 0.2% bump after November's revised 0.4% increase. Compared to December 2011, overall retail and food services sales have grown by 4.7%.
Improvements in auto sales drove much of the improvement over the last month and year. Not accounting for auto sales, retail sales rose just 0.3% for December and fell 0.1% in November.
Among the biggest gainers since last December are nonstore retailers (12.6%), miscellaneous store retailers (9.9%), and sporting goods, hobby, book & music stores (9.1%). The only business with falling sales is general merchandise stores, down 2% in the last year .