Retail and food-services sales increased a seasonally adjusted 0.2% to $431.9 billion for December, according to a Commerce Department report (link opens as PDF) released today. With final numbers in for 2013, retail sales this past year grew 4.2% over 2012.

After sales jumped a revised 0.4% in November, analysts were pleasantly surprised by the December numbers, having expected no seasonally adjusted growth for the month. 

December's top-line numbers look even better when accounting for more volatile automobile and gasoline sales. Auto sales dropped 1.8% -- due to colder weather and Black Friday discounts that moved some sales into November -- putting retail sales, minus motor vehicles, at 0.7% growth compared to analysts' 0.4% expectation. When also excluding gasoline's 1.6% month-over-month gain, retail sales still managed a 0.6% bump.


Outside of these two sectors, food and beverage stores led sales with a 2% increase, while electronics and appliances stores lagged with a 2.5% drop. Online sales grew 1.4% in December after a 1.6% gain in November.

Last year's 4.2% growth comes primarily from nonstore retailers (+10.3%) and motor vehicles and parts dealers (+8.7%). For the year, car sales rose 8% to 15.6 million. That's the best pace since 2007, before the Great Recession began.

-- Material from The Associated Press was used in this report.


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