WASHINGTON — Retail sales rose for a sixth consecutive month in December, led by big gains in sales of autos and furniture. The increases lifted sales for the year by the largest amount in more than a decade.
Sales rose 0.6 percent last month to $381 billion, the Commerce Department said Friday. The gain boosted retail sales 13.5 percent above the recession low hit in December 2008.
The string of increases pushed sales for all of 2010 up 6.7 percent, the largest annual increase since 1999.
Consumers, who fuel 70 percent of economic activity, are spending more money, and that's a major reason economists expect stronger economic growth this year.
December capped the best holiday shopping season ever on record for retailers in terms of holiday revenue. Holiday 2010 revenue results rose a robust 5.7 percent to $462 billion, according to the National Retail Federation's analysis of government figures.
That marked the biggest percentage increase since 2004, when holiday sales rose 5.9 percent. The holiday 2010 results well surpassed the trade group's forecast of 3.3 percent that was upgraded last month and would have put holiday sales at $451.5 billion, close to the holiday 2007 levels of $452.8 billion.
The figures, which track revenue from Nov. 1 through Dec. 31, exclude auto, restaurant and gasoline sales and only includes online sales from physical stores. The numbers are not adjusted for inflation.
Auto sales rose 1.1 percent last month, better than the 0.2 percent gain in November.
Excluding autos, retail sales rose 0.5 percent last month.
Sales were also strong at furniture stores, rising 1 percent, and at hardware stores, where they increased 2 percent.
Sales at department stores dropped 1.9 percent and were down 0.7 percent at general merchandise stores, a category that includes such big retailers as Walmart.