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The pace of U.S. retail sales plummeted in December, falling 0.7% when financial markets had expected monthly sales growth to remain unchanged, according to figures released Friday by the Commerce Department. November's decline was revised lower to -1.4% from -1.1%.
A strong month for motor vehicle and gas station sales masked weakness in most other industries. Sales at motor vehicles and parts dealers were up 1.9% after falling 1.5% in November. Excluding motor vehicle sales, retail sales were down 1.4% in December. Gas station sales also recovered in December, up 6.6% following a 1.6% decline in November. Excluding motor vehicle and gas station sales, retail sales fell 2.1%.
Meanwhile, sales at nonstore retailers, including online stores, were down 5.8% in December. Other notable declines came from electronics and appliance stores (-4.9%), restaurants (-4.5%), food and beverage stores (-1.4%), with grocery store sales down another 1.7%, and furniture stores (-0.6%).