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Holiday shopping off to slow start, US retails sales up 0.2%

By CHRIS RUGABER

AP Economics Writer

WASHINGTON — U.S. retail sales rose at a modest pace in November as the holiday shopping season appeared to have a slow start.

The Commerce Department said Friday that retail sales increased a seasonally adjusted 0.2% in November, down from 0.4% in the previous month. Healthy car sales lifted the overall figure. Excluding autos, sales ticked up just 0.1%.

Steady job gains, a low unemployment rate and rising wages have lifted consumer confidence and economists expect this year’s holiday shopping season to be a healthy one. But with Thanksgiving falling later in November there were fewer shopping days after Black Friday. Parts of the Midwest were also hit last month with snow and cold weather, which may have discouraged some spending.

Still, there were signs of consumer health. October’s retail sales were revised higher, to a gain of 0.4%, up from 0.3%. In the past year, retail sales have increased 3.3%, a slightly faster pace than the previous month.

Auto sales rose 0.5% in November, possibly buoyed by lower interest rates on many auto loans. Sales at electronics and appliance stores rose 0.7%, the most since July. Gas station sales also picked up 0.7%, though that can reflect higher prices at the pump. The retail sales figures aren’t adjusted for price changes.

Sales plunged 1.1% at health and personal care stores, the most in nearly a year, and dropped 0.6% at clothing outlets. General merchandise stores, which include large chains such as Target, eked out a 0.1% gain.