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November retail sales climb on strong buying of autos, electronics

Shoppers at South Coast Plaza on Black Friday.
Shoppers at South Coast Plaza on Black Friday.
(Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times)

Retail sales rose more than expected in November as purchases of cars surged and early holiday-season shoppers took advantage of Black Friday deals to load up on electronics and other goods
Clothing sales, however, suffered.

The Department of Commerce said retail sales last month totaled $432.3 billion, up 0.7% from October and up 4.7% from November 2012. Several forecasts had called for a 0.6% month-to-month increase.

The boost from September to October was revised up to 0.6% from a 0.4% upswing. From September through November, total sales are up 4.1% year over year, according to the government.

The month-to-month rise -- the largest in five months -- was strongly influenced by a 18% surge in sales at auto and parts retailers. Stripping out the category brings the overall retail sales gauge up 0.4% last month – slower growth than October’s 0.5% bump.

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November sales can be a key indicator of retail performance for the overall holiday season – a period that sometimes accounts for 40% of retailers’ annual sales. Consumer spending makes up more than two-thirds of the economy.

Sales at gas stations dropped 1.1%, indicating lower prices, which gives consumers more room for discretionary spending. But employment picture is still hazy, as initial jobless claims last week surged past predictions to 368,000 filings, according to a separate report Thursday from the government.

Last month, electronics and appliance stores clocked a 1.1% increase, likely due to booming sales of tablets, speakers and other gadgets deeply discounted for bargain shoppers. The retail sales figures do not include Cyber Monday, which fell in December this year

Furniture sales were up 1.2%, while consumers spent 1.8% more than the previous month on building materials and garden supplies.

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But apparel retailers took a hit after watching sales surge 2.6% in October. Clothing shops, which form a heavy contingent of mall tenants, endured a 0.2% sales slide amid an uninspiring season devoid of hot new fashions.

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