Retail sales, inventory data suggest strong fourth-quarter growth

Tue Jan 14, 2014 4:21pm EST
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By Lucia Mutikani

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. retail sales edged up in December with a core spending gauge posting a big jump, a sign the economy gathered steam at the end of last year and was poised for stronger growth in 2014.

The Commerce Department said on Tuesday that retail sales gained 0.2 percent last month, even as receipts at automobile dealers recorded their biggest drop in more than a year.

November's sales were, however, revised to a 0.4 percent increase from 0.7 percent. Excluding autos, sales rose 0.7 percent in December, the largest increase in 10 months.

"The surge in sales in December means the momentum will continue into the first quarter of the new year. 2014 is shaping up to be pretty good from where we sit," said Chris Rupkey, chief economist at Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ in New York.

Economists had expected retail sales to rise just 0.1 percent last month. For all of 2013, sales increased 4.2 percent.

Sales excluding automobiles, gasoline, building materials and food services, increased 0.7 percent after a 0.2 percent rise in November. Economists looked for a gain of just 0.3 percent.

These so-called core sales correspond most closely with the consumer spending component of gross domestic product, and the increase suggested consumption accelerated in the fourth quarter from the third quarter's 2 percent annual pace.

While a report on Friday showed job growth stumbled in December, that was largely dismissed as being due to cold weather, and economists said a wealth of other data suggest the economy is gaining strength.   Continued...

People shop inside a Target store during Black Friday sales in the Brooklyn borough of New York, November 29, 2013. REUTERS/Eric Thayer