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Solid US retail sales point to brisk consumer spending

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US consumer spending advanced at a brisk clip in November as lower gasoline prices gave the holiday shopping season a boost, offering the latest sign of underlying momentum in the economy.

[WASHINGTON] US consumer spending advanced at a brisk clip in November as lower gasoline prices gave the holiday shopping season a boost, offering the latest sign of underlying momentum in the economy.

The Commerce Department said on Thursday retail sales excluding automobiles, gasoline, building materials and food services, increased 0.6 per cent last month after an unrevised 0.5 per cent rise in October.

The so-called core retail sales correspond most closely with the consumer spending component of gross domestic product.

Economists polled by Reuters had expected core retail sales to rise 0.4 per cent last month.

Last month's increase suggested consumer spending, which accounts for more than two-thirds of U.S. economic activity, was accelerating in the fourth quarter after slowing a bit in the July-September period.

It added to November's bullish employment report in painting a fairly upbeat picture of the economy, despite a recession in Japan and faltering growth in the euro zone, China and major emerging markets.

Core sales last month were lifted by a 1.2 per cent jump in receipts at clothing stores, an indication that the holiday shopping season got off to a solid start, with retailers offering discounts to attract shoppers.

Receipts at online stores increased 1.0 per cent. Sales at electronic and appliance stores advanced 0.9 per cent, while receipts at furniture stores rose 0.5 per cent. Sales at sporting goods stores rose as did receipts at health and personal care stores.

While declining gasoline prices are stimulating consumer spending, they weighed on service station sales, with receipts falling 0.8 per cent.

That decline was, however, offset by a 1.7 per cent surge in automobile sales, which helped to lift overall retail sales by 0.7 per cent in November. That was the largest gain since March and followed an upwardly revised 0.5 per cent increase in October.

Economists had expected retail sales to rise 0.4 per cent in November.

Retail sales excluding gasoline stations increased 0.9 per cent. Sales building materials and garden equipment increased 1.4 per cent. Sales at restaurants and bars rose 0.7 per cent.

REUTERS