TORONTO, Jan 16 (Reuters) - Canadian retail sales grew by a tepid 1.6 percent in December, lagging even the disappointing gains posted in the United States during the month that includes the peak holiday shopping weeks, according to data released by MasterCard on Wednesday.
Sales growth north of the border came in at less the half of the 4.3 percent rate that retailers delivered a year earlier, according to MasterCard's SpendingPulse, published by the payment company's research and consulting division.
The figure also fell short of growth in the United States, where sales rose 2.4 percent in December, capping off what analysts consider a lackluster holiday shopping season there.
The performance is bad news for Canadian retailers, already facing rising competition from U.S. chains expanding in Canada, and bracing themselves for the entry of Target Corp in the spring. The arrival of the No. 2 U.S. discounter is expected to shake up the industry across the country.
In December, MasterCard released data for November that showed only 1.3 percent sales growth, compared with 4.2 percent a year earlier.