Weaker auto sales weigh on US retail at holidays' end

A dip in US sales of autos last month put a dent in the final weeks of the all-important holiday shopping period, which was otherwise robust, government data showed Thursday.

American consumers continued to spend freely, spending more on pricier gasoline while taking home more building supplies, clothing, electronics and sporting goods, according to the Commerce Department.

Total retail sales for December rose 0.3 percent to $529.6 billion, seasonally adjusted, the same increase recorded in the prior two months.

The result matched economists' expectations and put sales up 5.8 percent over December of last year.

Auto sales fell 1.3 percent, however, dragging down the overall result.

Outside the volatile auto sector, US retailers had a better month. Sales surpassed forecasts, rising 0.7 percent.

The Commerce Department data was echoed by a report from the National Retail Federation, which said overall holiday sales rose 4.1 percent to $730.2 billion from the year-ago period.

"This is a consumer-driven economy, and by any measure, the consumer has put the economy in a solid position for continued growth," said NRF Chief Executive Matthew Shay. "This is a strong finish to the holiday season, and we think it's a positive indicator of what's ahead."

The NRF's final figures were in line with an October forecast that projected growth based on low US unemployment, rising wages and relatively low gasoline prices.

The 2019 season was also a big improvement over the 2.1 percent growth last year, when sales were hindered by government shutdown, stock market volatility and interest rate hikes.