US retail sales jump in November on strong holiday sales

FILE - In this Friday, Nov. 24, 2017, file photo, store leader Shelley Merritt, center, takes a bag over to Jessica Jones as shoppers take advantage of Black Friday sales at Game Stop in Kinston, N.C. The Commerce Department said Thursday, Dec. 14, 2017, that sales at retailers and restaurants rose in November from the previous month. (Janet S. Carter/Daily Free Press via AP, File)

WASHINGTON — U.S. consumers went on a shopping binge last month as the holiday season began, leading to big gains among online retailers, electronics stores and furniture stores.

The Commerce Department said Thursday that sales at retailers and restaurants jumped 0.8 percent in November from the previous month, after a 0.5 percent gain in October. Consumers' willingness to splurge should give the economy a boost in the final three months of the year.

A category that mostly includes online shopping rose 2.5 percent in a sign of the continuing dominance of e-commerce. Sales leapt 2.1 percent at electronics stores and 1.2 percent at furniture stores.

"A good start to the holiday shopping season," David Berson, chief economist at Nationwide, said. "Consumers are responding positively to solid job gains, increasing income growth, and record levels of household net worth."

The figures were lifted by a large increase in spending at gas stations, which mostly reflected higher prices. But sales also rose at clothing stores, sporting goods retailers, and home and garden stores.

Consumers are more confident than they have been since 2000, according to surveys. Unemployment has fallen to a 17-year low and the economy has generated job gains for 86 straight months.

Those trends are accelerating growth. The economy has expanded at a 3.2 percent annual rate in the last six months, the first time growth has topped 3 percent for two quarters since 2014.

Thursday's data suggests growth could reach 3 percent or better in the fourth quarter, though fourth-quarter figures won't be available until January.

Auto sales slipped last month after rising in previous months as residents of Texas and Florida replaced hurricane-damaged cars. But auto dealers were the only retailers to report a drop in sales. Restaurants and bars said that sales grew 0.7 percent in November.

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