WASHINGTON - U.S. consumers ramped up spending in November on cars, appliances and furniture and made more purchases online, signaling growing confidence in the economy during the holiday shopping season.
The Commerce Department said Thursday
that retail sales rose 0.7 percent, the biggest gain in five months. October's
figure was also revised higher to 0.6 percent.
Two straight months of healthy sales
suggest steady hiring is encouraging Americans to spend more this holiday
season, particularly on big-ticket items. The report also shows that consumers
are purchasing more at home on their computers -- and less at traditional
Auto sales jumped 1.8 percent,
furniture purchases rose 1.2 percent and sales at electronics and appliances stores
rose 1.1 percent. Excluding the volatile categories of autos, gas and building
materials, sales rose a solid 0.5 percent in November.
Americans also are shifting more
spending to online and catalog retailers. Online and catalog sales rose 2.2
percent last month, the most in nearly 18 months.
Sales were weak at some retail chains.
Clothing and grocery stores reported lower sales last month. And gains at
department stores, health care and sporting goods stores were all tepid. Those
trends could explain why many retail chains estimated disappointing sales over
the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, one of the most critical for those
Nonetheless, Americans are spending
more, which could give a much-needed boost to the economy in the final three
months of the year. Consumer spending rose only 1.4 percent in the
July-September quarter, the weakest gain in nearly four years.
The economy expanded at a solid 3.6
percent annual rate in the third quarter. But nearly half the growth came from
inventory restocking, as companies added more goods to their warehouses and
store shelves. More spending would ensure that businesses aren't caught with
unwanted supplies and keep the economy expanding.
Consumer spending drives roughly 70
percent of growth.
Another positive sign: Total consumer
spending rose 0.3 percent in October, the government said last week, up
slightly from September's figure.
Hiring has been solid since the
summer, giving more Americans paychecks to spend. Employers added 203,000 jobs
in October and the unemployment rate fell to a five-year low of 7 percent.
Wages even picked up a bit and have risen 2 percent over the past year,