Retail Sales Finish 2013 with a December Gain

Census BureauWASHINGTON-U.S. retailers logged in $431.9 billion in sales in December, up 0.2 percent from November’s total and 4.1 percent ahead of December 2012, according to the monthly retail sales report from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Census Bureau.

Looking at the channels that sell home products, sales at furniture and home furnishings stores slipped 0.4 percent from November but rose 4.5 percent over December of one year ago. General merchandise stores posted a month-over-month gain of 0.1 percent and were up 1.5 percent compared to the prior year. Department stores (excluding leased departments) reported sales drops of 0.7 percent from November and 3.3 percent from last December.

In line with the Census Bureau’s report, the National Retail Federation said total holiday retail sales were up 3.8 percent to $601.8 billion, in line with the trade group’s prediction. Jack Kleinhenz, chief economist of the National Retail Federation, attributed the “healthy” holiday season to solid job growth in October and November, leading to a more-confident consumer. “While economic and policy uncertainties remain, the economy seems set for steady growth in the new year,” Kleinhenz said.

Kathy Bostjancic, director of macroeconomic analysis for The Conference Board, said this morning’s report is evidence that consumer spending is “gaining traction.” Bostjancic noted that job growth has been solid, and that rising household wealth from improvements in the housing and stock markets has been feeding the upscale market.

“The resilient American shopper is likely to spend increased wages in the first half of 2014, on replacement furniture and household appliances, even if they are not on sale,” Bostjancic said. “And that could be the big economic story for the entire first half of 2014.”