U.S. Retail Sales Increased 0.4% in December

Spending at U.S. retailers rose in December for the fourth consecutive month, capping the strongest year for sales growth since 2014.

Retail sales--a measure of consumer spending at stores, restaurants and websites--increased a seasonally adjusted 0.4% in December from the prior month, the Commerce Department said Friday. Economists surveyed by The Wall Street Journal had expected a 0.4% increase.

Retail sales had increased a revised 0.9% in November, and October sales growth also was revised higher. Sales in the fourth quarter as a whole increased 5.5% compared with the same period a year earlier.

Excluding autos, an often-volatile category, sales were up 0.4% last month; economists had expected a 0.3% gain. Excluding both autos and gasoline, sales rose 0.4% in December.

Total retail sales grew 4.2% in 2017, following annual increases of 3.2% in 2016, 2.6% in 2015 and 4.3% in 2014.

Data on retail sales can be volatile from month to month, aren't adjusted for inflation and don't include spending on most services such as housing and health care.

Consumer spending is the main engine of the U.S. economy, accounting for more than two-thirds of total economic output. Consumer spending has continued to rise, supported by factors including low unemployment and rising consumer confidence, though the rate of growth has eased in recent years.

Ahead of Friday's report, Macroeconomic Advisers, a forecasting firm, estimated the economy grew at a 2.3% annual pace in the October-to-December period. The Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta's GDPNow model estimated a 2.8% growth rate.

Gasoline-station sales were flat in December from the prior month, according to the Commerce Department report. Fluctuations in sales often reflect changes in gas prices, not volume. A gallon of regular gasoline cost $2.48 on average in December versus $2.56 in November, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Sales were uneven across other categories last month. Sales decreased from November at electronics, clothing, and sporting goods and hobby stores. Spending was up at furniture sellers, grocery stores, restaurants and nonstore retailers, a category that includes online shopping.

Sales at department stores fell 1.1% last month but were up 0.5% from December 2016.

Sales at nonstore retailers, mostly online-shopping outlets, were up 1.2% from November and rose 12.7% on the year.

The Commerce Department's retail sales report can be found at http://www.census.gov/retail/marts/www/marts_current.pdf.

Write to Sarah Chaney at sarah.chaney@wsj.com and Ben Leubsdorf at ben.leubsdorf@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

January 12, 2018 08:45 ET (13:45 GMT)