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Washington – U.S. retail sales increased a slight 0.2 percent in November, as strong sales tied to holiday shopping were offset by lower gasoline prices.

The Commerce Department said Friday that retail sales have climbed a solid 5.3 percent so far this year. In November, non-store retail sales – a category that includes Internet brands such as Amazon – jumped 2.3 percent. Furnishers, electronics stores and health stores also enjoyed a solid bump as the holiday shopping season got into full swing last month.

“U.S. consumers were feeling festive a month before the holidays!” said Jennifer Lee, a senior economist at BMO Capital Markets.

Americans have responded to an improvement in economic growth this year by spending more, especially online and at restaurants. Retail sales are an indicator that Americans have faith that the economy with a half-century low unemployment rate of 3.7 percent will continue to grow. Yet the economic gains of the past year – buoyed by President Donald Trump’s deficit-financed tax cuts – have not insulated retailers from broader long-term pressures. Department stores have seen their sales slip year-to-date, while sales gains for automakers this year have been weak as companies such as General Motors are announcing layoffs for thousands of workers.

In November, gas stations hampered retail sales. Service stations saw a 2.3 percent drop in purchases last month. This was a reversal from October when higher gas prices, along with a short-lived bump in auto-buying, had helped propel broader retail sales gains of 1.1 percent.

Excluding gas, November retail sales rose a healthy 0.5 percent. Besides non-store retailers, the gains were fueled by a 1.2 percent increase in purchases at furniture stores and a 1.4 percent growth in sales at electronics and appliance stores.

Core sales, which exclude autos, gas and building materials, have increased over the past two months at the fastest pace in two years, a reassuring sign for economic growth coming into the end of 2018.

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