Retail sales in U.S. climbed more than forecast in December

Retail sales rose more than forecast in December as consumers snapped up holiday gifts amid year-end discounting, giving the world’s biggest economy a lift at the end of 2013.

Purchases increased 0.2% after a 0.4% advance in November that was smaller than previously reported, Commerce Department figures showed today in Washington. The median forecast of 86 economists surveyed by Bloomberg called for a 0.1% gain. Excluding cars, demand jumped by the most in almost a year.

Holiday-season deals probably helped retailers overcome the coldest December in four years. At the same time, improving confidence owing to falling joblessness and further healing in the housing market is likely to support household spending, which accounts for almost 70% of the economy, in 2014.

“There is the hope that the momentum is going to continue and the good news will feed on itself,” said Scott Brown, chief economist at Raymond James & Associates Inc. in St. Petersburg, Florida, who correctly projected the rise in retail sales. “Better spending will lead to more jobs and more jobs will lead to more spending.”

Stock-index futures held earlier gains after the report. The contract on the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index (CME:SPH14) maturing in March rose 0.2% to 1,818.3 at 8:50 a.m. in New York.

Survey Results

Estimates in the Bloomberg survey ranged from a decline of 0.5% to a 0.6% gain. November’s reading was revised from an initially reported 0.7% increase.

For all of 2013, retail sales rose 4.2% from the prior year, following a 5.4% gain in 2012.

Another report today showed the costs of goods bought from abroad were little changed in December, indicating little inflation pressure from overseas. The unchanged reading in the import-price index followed a 0.9% drop in November, according to figures from the Labor Department. Excluding fuel, prices fell 0.1%, the first decline since August.

Seven of 13 major merchant retailer categories showed gains last month, today’s Commerce Department report showed. The increases were paced by a 2% jump at grocery and beverage stores that was the biggest since October 2006.

Sales at automobile dealers dropped 1.8%, the most since October 2012, after gaining 1.9% in November, today’s report showed.

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