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Retail Sales Increase as Americans Snap Up Autos, Electronics

Dec. 13 (Bloomberg) -- Retail sales in the U.S. rose in November as demand for automobiles rebounded and holiday shoppers snapped up electronics and clothes.

The 0.3 percent gain followed a 0.3 percent decrease in October, Commerce Department figures showed today in Washington. The median forecast of 81 economists surveyed by Bloomberg called for a 0.5 percent rise. The biggest drop in service- station receipts in four years, reflecting lower fuel costs, restrained the gain in total purchases.

Car sales jumped last month to a four-year high, in part because Americans in Sandy’s path replaced damaged vehicles. Federal Reserve policy makers yesterday expanded stimulus in a bid to reduce unemployment and spur the economy as chains such as Macy’s Inc. cut prices to lure customers increasingly concerned about looming tax increases and government cutbacks.

“Consumer spending is quite respectable at this time,” Millan Mulraine, senior U.S. strategist for TD Securities in New York, said before the report. “Some certainty is needed on the fiscal outlook, and once we get some clarity, it is conceivable we could see stronger spending.”

Economists’ estimates in the Bloomberg survey ranged from gains of 0.1 percent to 2 percent. The reading for October was unrevised.

Ten of 13 major categories showed gains last month, led by a 1.4 percent increase at auto dealers, a 2.5 percent jump at electronics outlets and a 0.9 percent gain at clothing stores.

Auto Sales

Cars and light trucks sold in November at a 15.5 million annual rate, the fastest pace since February 2008 and up from 14.2 million in October when Sandy kept East Coast shoppers away during auto dealers’ busiest time of the month, according to Ward’s Automotive Group. Ford Motor Co. deliveries of cars and light trucks climbed 6.4 percent and General Motors Co. sales gained 3.4 percent, the companies said Dec. 3.

Retail sales excluding autos were little changed for a second month, today’s report showed, matching the median forecast of economists surveyed by Bloomberg.

One of the weaker categories last month was general merchandise stores, where sales dropped 0.9 percent.

Sales at Macy’s, the second-biggest U.S. department-store company, fell 0.7 percent, while the average projection from analysts surveyed by Retail Metrics called for an increase. Kohl’s Corp. of Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin, said same-store sales dropped 5.6 percent, also in contrast to estimates for a gain.

Gasoline Prices

Filling-station sales fell 4 percent, the biggest decrease since December 2008, as cheaper gasoline held back receipts. The Commerce Department’s retail sales data aren’t adjusted for prices. The average cost of a gallon of gasoline was $3.44 in November, down from $3.70 in October, according to AAA, the largest U.S. auto organization.

Sales at building-material stores climbed 1.6 percent, in part reflecting improved demand on rebuilding efforts along the East Coast following superstorm Sandy.

The Commerce Department said it wasn’t able to quantify the effects of Sandy. The agency said respondents reported both positive and negative effects from the storm.

Excluding autos, gasoline and building materials, which are the figures used to calculate gross domestic product, sales climbed 0.5 percent in November after being little changed in the previous month.

Payroll Gains

Household spending is unlikely to accelerate without faster hiring. Payrolls rose by 146,000 in November following a revised 138,000 increase in October that was less than initially estimated, figures showed last week.

Americans also face the possibility of more than $600 billion in tax increases and government spending cuts next year unless lawmakers act to avert the so-called fiscal cliff.

Fed policy makers yesterday said the central bank will buy $45 billion a month of Treasury securities starting in January, expanding its asset-purchase program, and linked the outlook for its main interest rate to unemployment and inflation.

“The committee remains concerned that, without sufficient policy accommodation, economic growth might not be strong enough to generate sustained improvement in labor-market conditions,” they said in the statement.

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