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Retail sales show modest December increase, weakening growth

Retail sales show modest December increase, weakening growth
Retail sales rose 0.2% in December from the previous month, the Commerce Department reported. (Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)

Consumers shelled out a meager 0.2% more in December than they did in the previous month, braving bitter cold to spend a few extra dollars on gasoline, clothing and food, the government said.

But the final month of the holidays showed signs of shopper abandonment after retailers front-loaded the season with heavy discounting in November, according to Tuesday's report from the Commerce Department. Electronics and appliance merchants suffered a 2.5% sales decline last month, while vendors selling sporting goods, books and music slid 0.6%.

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Overall in December, Americans spent $431.9 billion on retail purchases and food services, up 4.1% from the same month a year earlier. Total holiday sales from October through December rose 1% from 2012.

Retail sales for all of 2013 rose 4.2% from the prior year, lagging the 5.2% growth in 2012 and 7.7% growth in 2011, the Commerce Department said.

November sales were revised down to a 0.4% increase from October after previously being calculated as a 0.7% upswing.

Sales at auto dealers slipped 1.9% last month from November. Excluding the effects of that decline — attributed to frigid temperatures in much of the country — along with sales of vehicle parts, retail sales rose 0.7% month-to-month and were up 3.1% over the three-month holiday period.

Americans spent 1.6% more on gas in December than they did the prior month, suggesting that the cost of fuel rose.

Spending on food and beverages swelled 2%, while clothing sales increased 1.8%.

Department stores, however, are on Wall Street's watch list, dipping 0.7% from November and 3.3% from December 2012.

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