Nation's largest retail trade group: holiday sales rose 4.1%

The nation's largest retail trade group says holiday sales increased 4.1%, the top end of its forecast

NEW YORK (AP) — The nation's largest retail trade group says holiday sales increased 4.1%, the top end of its forecast.

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The National Retail Federation had expected growth in a range of 3.8% to 4.2% for the November and December period. The growth is nearly double the 2.1% growth seen during the holiday 2018 period, which was hurt by a government shutdown, stock market volatility and interest rate hikes.

The holiday figures, announced Thursday, follow a report from the Commerce Department that retail sales rose 0.3% in December from the previous month. Excluding sales at car dealers and gas stations, sales rose 0.5%, the best in five months.

The results offer a dose of optimism for the retail industry. Retailers have benefited from a strong economy and a tight job market, but many are struggling to adjust to an increasing shift among its customers toward online. They're also battling the increasing dominance of online behemoth Amazon.com.

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Several large stores including Kohl's and Macy's have reported disappointing holiday sales. Target, which has been on a winning streak, also reported a shortfall in its holiday business. A full picture of how consumers spent will be known when retailers report their fiscal fourth quarter results next month.

REUTERS/Kamil Krzaczynski

"This is a strong finish to the holiday season, and we think it's a positive indicator of what's ahead," said Matthew Shay, president and CEO of the NRF, in a statement.

The numbers exclude sales from automobile dealers, gas stations and restaurants.

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Online and other non-store sales were up 14.6% over the prior year and are included in the total.

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The NRF forecast considers economic indicators such as consumer credit, disposable personal income and monthly retail sales.