December Retail Sales Fall 0.1 Percent

(Los Angeles Times/TNS) -

Retail sales in December took a slight tumble, as budget-minded shoppers stayed cautious about spending even during the year-end shopping season.

Last month, retail sales fell to $448.1 billion, down 0.1 percent from the previous month, the Commerce Department said Friday. But November sales were revised up slightly: They increased 0.4 percent from a month earlier. The previous estimate was a 0.2 percent rise.

Falling gasoline prices dragged down retail sales overall. And even though people could save money on gas, that failed to translate into significant boosts in consumer spending, which some economists had been predicting. Instead, many Americans appear to be squirreling away those extra dollars into savings or using the money to pay down debt.

On Friday, the National Retail Federation reported that year-end-shopping-season sales rose 3 percent to $625.9 billion, below the 3.7 percent growth that was previously predicted. E-commerce, where sales grew 9 percent to $105 billion during the year-end shopping season, has been luring shoppers away from brick-and-mortar retailers.

Six out of 13 categories reported falling sales in December.

Clothing and accessories stores dropped 0.9 percent, and electronics and appliance stores slipped 0.2 percent. Gas stations saw a 1.1 percent decline.

Other areas, especially around home improvement, saw growth. Furniture stores got a 0.9 percent boost. Building material and garden dealers reported a 0.7 percent increase.