US retail sales rose roughly in line with expectations in December, according to the Commerce Department.
Retail sales increased by 0.6% from a revised 0.2% pace in November. Economists had forecast a rise by 0.7% month-on-month, according to Bloomberg.
Strong auto sales, which were at a record level in 2016, helped lift overall retail sales. Higher gas prices also boosted sales. But excluding these two volatile categories, so-called core retail sales were flat (0.4% expected).
“Consumers are actually in pretty good shape,” said Scott Anderson, chief economist at Bank of the West, a subsidiary of BNP Paribas. “Debt service burdens are at the lowest level since we started tracking the data in the 1980s, so there’s some spending power there. It seems like consumers really decided to spend on cars in December rather than in some more traditional sectors,” he told Business Insider.
Sales from online shopping, or so-called nonstore retailers, increased by 1.3%. Department-store sales slipped by 0.6% from November, reflecting the structural shift from traditional stores to online shopping.