December retail sales reach $400 billion mark

WASHINGTON — Despite barely rising in December, retail sales hit a record for the year, according to figures released by the U.S. Census Bureau on Thursday.

U.S. retail and food services sales for the month, adjusted for seasonal variation and holiday and trading-day differences, but not for price changes, increased 0.1% to $400.6 billion from the previous month and 6.5% above December 2010. Adjusted retail sales were virtually unchanged.

Looking across retail categories, the Census Bureau reported that grocery store sales saw a decline in December, decreasing from $46.5 billion to $46.4 billion. Health and personal care stores rose from $23.3 billion to $23.1 billion. Retail sales for drug stores and pharmacies were not recorded; however, sales were virtually flat from October to November ($19.3 billion to $19.26 billion).

For the year, total retail sales were up 7.7% to $4.7 trillion, while sales excluding motor vehicles and parts totaled nearly $3.9 trillion, 7.3% above 2010.

Meanwhile, the National Retail Federation said that holiday sales rose 4.1% to $471.5 billion, beating NRF's projection of 3.8%.

"The right mix of strong promotions, lean inventories and an emphasis on value put retailers in the perfect position to end the year on a high note," NRF president and CEO Matthew Shay said. “A better-than-expected holiday season is welcome news for an economic recovery that continues to be sluggish, and demonstrates retail’s powerful role as an engine of growth.”

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