Holiday shopping, gasoline send US retail higher in November

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The US holiday shopping season got off to a robust start in November, sending the US retail sector surging along with higher gasoline sales, according to government data released Thursday. Online retailers like Amazon, as well as department stores, clothing retailers, furniture and electronics outlets and gas stations all had banner months, offsetting sagging auto sales, the Commerce Department reported

Total retail and food services sales rose 0.8 percent over October, with American consumers plunking down $492.7 billion, according to the seasonally adjusted figures. The result handily overshot analyst expectations, which called for an increase of only 0.3 percent. Consumers spending last month was 5.8 percent higher than in November of last year.

Adding to the good news, October’s sales were revised upward by three tenths of a percentage point, further supporting the view that consumers could boost GDP growth in the final quarter of the year. Within the strong report, the auto sector struggled last month, with sales falling 0.2 percent from October’s solid performance.

Non-store retailers continued to surge, rising 2.5 percent, but even the long-suffering department store sector had a brighter month, increasing 0.3 percent over October. Electronics and appliance stores jumped 2.1 percent which analysts said likely was driven by sales of the new iPhone. Meanwhile, the housing sector continued to drive significant spending: furniture stores and building material suppliers gained 1.2 percent.

November sales are not always a good indication of how the season as a whole will turn out, Ian Shepherdson of Pantheon Macroeconomics said in a client note. But with record high consumer confidence and inflation-adjusted incomes beginning to rise, “people have the wherewithal to continue spending at a robust pace,” he said.

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