Retail sales in December rise for sixth consecutive month

Washington, D.C. -- Retail sales rose for a sixth consecutive month in December, with big gains in sales of autos and furniture. The increases lifted sales activity for the year by the largest amount in more than a decade.

Sales rose 0.6% last month to a level of $381 billion, the Commerce Department said Friday, less than the 0.8% economists had expected. However, the increase pushed sales for all of 2010 up 6.7%, the largest annual increase since 1999. Excluding autos, retail sales rose 0.5% last month.

December was the best holiday shopping season for retailers in four years. Revenue at stores open at least a year rose 3.8% from Oct. 31 to Jan. 1, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers.

But the gains last month were smaller than the previous two. Retailers began their promotional efforts much earlier this year, which may have dampened last month's sales. A huge snowstorm in the Northeast after Christmas also reduced demand.

Non-store retailers, which include Internet sales, saw significant sales growth, with sales rising by 2.6% in December following a 1.9% increase in November. The increase in sales by non-store retailers reflected the strongest growth in over two years.

Sales were strong at furniture stores, rising 1%, and at hardware stores, where they increased 2%.

Sales at department stores dropped 1.9% and were down 0.7% at general merchandise stores. The December declines in activity compared to big gains in November.