NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- The nation's merchants scored a surprising increase in their crucial year-end holiday sales, countering expectations of a decline, according to an industry report issued Thursday.
Sales in the combined November-December period rose 1.1% to $446.8 billion, according to the National Retail Federation (NRF).
The group had forecast a decline of 1% for the period, which would have followed a 3.4% drop in holiday sales in 2008.
"With an eye on managing inventory and maintaining lower price points, retailers did a tremendous job of planning for the holiday season," NRF chief economist Rosalind Wells said in a statement.
However, the retail group maintained a tone of caution about the spending environment in 2010.
"While the consumer appears to be spending again, double-digit unemployment numbers will remain an impediment to maintaining this momentum," Wells said.
The year-end sales period is critical for the sellers because those two months can account for 50% or more of their sales and profits for the full year.
The NRF report, which covers the two months of the holiday period, followed a somewhat disappointing government report Thursday that showed a surprising decline in overall retail sales in December. The November sales figures were revised higher, to a gain of 1.8%.
Some industry watchers said both reports indicated a modest pick-up in consumer spending.
Further, the unexpected decline in December retail sales could be revised next month to eventually show a gain, said Michael Niemira, chief economist with the International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC).
Niemira said he's hopeful that will happen given that a number of large retail chain reported much better December sales earlier this month.
Walmart has agreed to pay $7.5 million to settle a suit that alleged the chain discriminated against gay employees. More
Increased health coverage through Obamacare and greater use of health care services accounted for the nearly 6% rise of national health spending in 2015, which approached $10,000 per person. More
Facebook admits it messed up more ad metrics than previously thought, potentially eroding its trust and relationship with marketers and publishers. More
In 1998, Ntsiki Biyela won a scholarship to study wine making. Now she's about to launch her own brand. More
Credit card issuers are competing intensely for your business, and they're willing to pay for it. More