Holiday sales rose 5.7%

December retail sales in the GAFS category (general merchandise stores, clothing and clothing accessories stores, furniture and home furnishings stores, electronics and appliances stores, and sporting goods, hobby, book, and music stores) rose 6.4% over the previous year and increased 0.5% seasonally adjusted from November, according to the National Retail Federation (NRF).

Combined, November and December brought holiday sales growth to 5.7%, the strongest growth since 1999 and higher than last year’s 5.1% increase. NRF had been predicting a 4.5 percent GAFS sales increase since September.

“Post-holiday discounting and gift-card redemptions helped provide a last-minute surge in spending,” said Rosalind Wells, NRF chief economist.

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 1.2% seasonally adjusted from November and increased 9.3% unadjusted year-over-year.

Several retail sectors in December saw strong growth. Furniture and home furnishings stores saw positive gains, with sales up 2.2% seasonally adjusted from November and rising 7.2% over 2003.General merchandise stores, which include department stores, grew 0.7% from the prior month and 7.8% over the previous year. Sales at sporting goods stores rose 0.9% over November and a strong 4.2% over 2003. Clothing and clothing accessories stores dropped 0.6% over November but rose 5% over the previous year.

“Though we were projecting a solid holiday season, the final outcome was better than we thought it would be,” said Tracy Mullin, NRF president and CEO.