Holiday sales rose 6.4 percent

Retail industry sales (excluding automobiles, gas stations, and restaurants) for December increased 5.7 percent unadjusted over the previous year and were flat seasonally adjusted from the previous month, the National Retail Federation said. Combined, November and December brought holiday sales growth to 6.4 percent, slightly higher than NRF’s forecast of 6 percent. Consumers spent a total of $438.6 billon this holiday season.

“This was clearly more than just a ho-hum holiday season as some have prematurely reported,” said NRF chief economist Rosalind Wells. “Thanks to a last minute surge in spending, fueled in part by gift cards, consumers gave retailers a reason to cheer.”

December retail sales released today by the U.S. Commerce Department show that total retail sales (which include non-general merchandise categories such as autos, gasoline stations and restaurants) rose 0.7 percent seasonally adjusted from November and increased 6.4 percent unadjusted year-over-year.

Several retail sectors in December saw strong year-over-year growth. Building material and garden equipment and supplies stores saw positive gains, with sales up 8.2 percent over 2004. Due to aggressive pricing and clearance promotions, sales at clothing and clothing accessories stores increased 7.6 percent. Electronics, led by high-demand merchandise such as I-Pods and X-Box 360s, also performed well in December. Sales in electronics and appliance stores increased 7 percent.

Additionally, strong year-over-year gains were seen at health and personal care stores (6.8%), furniture and home furnishing stores (5.6%) and sporting goods, hobby, book and music stores (4.4%).

Sales at department stores, which were challenged by discounters and luxury retailers this holiday season, were down 3 percent from December 2004.

“While 2005 ended on a very positive note, we certainly expect to see a more challenging sales environment in the New Year,” Wells said.