Strongest holiday sales since Great Recession, up 5.5%, topping industry's forecast

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The National Retail Federation today announced that sales made during from November 1 to December 31 increased by 5.5% over 2016.

Online retailers reported a strong sales gain of 1.2 percent.

Receipts at restaurants and bars gained 0.7 percent, the biggest increase seen since January.

Data on retail sales can be volatile from month to month, aren't adjusted for inflation and don't include spending on most services such as housing and health care.

Sales of furniture grew by 0.7% to $10.33bn, while those of building materials increased by 1.2% to hit $32.98bn.

"We knew going in that retailers were going to have a good holiday season, but the results are even better than anything we could have hoped for", said Matthew Shay, NRF president and CEO.

The so-called retail sales control group grew by 0.3% on the month, which was one tenth of a percentage point less than anticipated.

Spending Surge       U.S. retail sales grew for a ninth straight holiday season in 2017                                  Source National Retail Federation
Spending Surge U.S. retail sales grew for a ninth straight holiday season in 2017 Source National Retail Federation

The NRF credited the sales numbers to the 17-year low unemployment, increase in income, strong consumer confidence and the healthy stock market for shoppers' willingness to open their wallets. General merchandise sales rose 0.1% from November and were up 4.4% for 2017, and department store sales fell 1.1% from November and rose 0.5% year over year.

Early results for the season from Mastercard SpendingPulse, which tracked spending through December 24, reported holiday sales grew by 4.9%.

Consumer spending is the main engine of the US economy, accounting for more than two-thirds of total economic output.

"After years in hibernation, consumers - accounting for 70 percent of GDP - are finally flexing their spending muscles", Johnson said.

As a result, certain retail segments were particularly strong in December. Spending for the two months combined was the best since 2005.

Overall December sales - including automobiles, gasoline and restaurants - were up 5.5 percent from December 2016.

Department store chain Bon-Ton Stores, Inc., announced that its comparable-store sales for the nine-week holiday period decreased 2.9%, while sales declined 6.6% in the third quarter. Ellison predicted a rebound in apparel and other categories. Sales decreased from November at electronics, clothing, and sporting goods and hobby stores.

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