Strong kickoff to holiday shopping season

By Parija Kavilanz, senior writer

NEW YORK ( -- Retail sales were solidly higher in November, the government reported Tuesday, fueled in part by deep discounting on holiday merchandise.

The sales were so strong that the leading retail industry group boosted its forecast for the holiday season by a full percentage point.

The Commerce Department said total retail sales rose 0.8% last month.

Economists surveyed by on average had forecast an increase of 0.5% for November, compared to a revised 1.7% jump in sales the prior month. October sales were originally reported to have increased 1.2%.

Sales excluding autos and auto parts rose 1.2%, compared to a revised 0.8% gain in ex-auto sales in October. Ex-auto sales were originally reported to have increased 0.4%.

Economists had forecast a rise of 0.6% in the measure for November, according to

After the report was released, the National Retail Federation bumped up its holiday sales forecast. The trade group now expects combined sales in November and December to increase 3.3% this year, up from its initial forecast for a 2.3% gain.

Holiday sales last year rose an anemic 0.4%

"The start to the holiday season has surpassed all expectations," NRF president Matthew Shay said in a statement.

"While employment data is still a concern, we are starting to see improvement in other economic indicators that support an increase to our forecast," he said. "In order to sustain this momentum for retailers and the U.S. economy, there must be a renewed focus on jobs as we enter the new year."

November's gain marked the fifth straight monthly gain in the measure -- an encouraging sign that, despite a tight job market, consumers are becoming more comfortable with spending on discretionary purchases.

For retailers, November marks the start of the year-end holiday shopping frenzy. Total November-December can account for as much as 50% of merchants' sales and profits for the full year.

Holiday sales this year got off to a robust start. Earlier this month, many large store chains also reported much better-than-expected monthly sales at their stores.

The government report showed sales at clothing stores rose 2.7%, were up 2.3% at sporting goods and hobby stores, increased 2.8% at department stores and climbed 1.3% at general merchandise sellers. Online sales rose 2.1%.

Higher gasoline prices fueled gas station sales to a 4% increase in November.

But there were a few weak pockets as well in last month's report. Electronics sales dipped 0.6%, a figure also reflected when Best Buy (BBY, Fortune 500), the No. 1 electronics seller, reported a miss on its sales and profit last quarter earlier Tuesday.

Furniture purchases slipped 0.5%. To top of page

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