Holiday sales best since Great Recession, as consumers buy the latest gadgets

Holiday sales best since Great Recession, as consumers buy the latest gadgets

Economists had expected retail sales to rise by 0.4% compared to the 0.8% increase originally reported for the previous month.

Online retailers reported a strong sales gain of 1.2 percent.

Sales at gasoline stations were unchanged during December after growing 3.0% in November.

Retail trade sales last month were up 0.3% from November and rose 5.6% from December 2016, the U.S. Department of Commerce said on Friday.

According to the National Retail Federation, holiday sales in the November/December timeframe increased 5.5% over the same period in 2016 to $691.9 billion. It marked the fourth consecutive month of increase for the industry after a bruising year strewn with bankruptcies and department store closures largely from the shift to online shopping. The bureau adjusts for seasonal variation and holidays, but not price changes, so the gain is more than the fact that shoppers always buy more in December than in other months; it's a solid gain, especially since inflation is a minor factor in most retail categories.

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GlobalData Retail managing director Neil Saunders cited these factors: Consumer confidence at 17-year highs, steady wage growth of about 3 percent, the booming stock market, and the robust housing sector.

Throughout the season, NRF said clothing and accessories sales saw a 2.7 percent uptick year-over-year.

There were increases in every retail category except sporting goods during the holiday season, which NRF defines as November 1 through December 31.

Last month's sales were supported by a 1.2 percent jump in sales at gardening and building material stores.

"With this as a starting point and tax cuts putting more money into consumers' pockets, we are confident that retailers will have a very good year ahead", Shay added. A gallon of regular gasoline cost $2.48 on average in December versus $2.56 in November, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. "Overall, though, these data are consistent with the very elevated consumer confidence numbers, and they imply that the saving rate, which is already very low, continues to decline", said Ian Shepherdson, chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics. Online spending grew 11.5 percent during the holidays to $138.4 billion.