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.
Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.