US retail sales in December beat expectations

US shoppers
Image caption Shoppers were out in force over Christmas despite uncertainty about the so-called fiscal cliff

US retail sales rose in December by more than analysts had expected as Americans spent more on cars and home furnishings, figures show.

Sales totalled $415.7bn (£259bn) in the month, up 0.5% on the previous month, the Commerce Department said.

Compared with a year earlier, sales rose 4.7%.

With consumer spending accounting for about 70% of US economic activity, analysts said the figures were good news for the economy.

Sales of cars and car parts rose by 1.6% from November, while sales of furniture and personal care products were 1.4% higher.

"[The figures] suggest a resilient consumer in the face of the fiscal cliff debates," said Joe Manimbo at Western Union Business Solutions.

"It offers a favourable sign for fourth-quarter growth."

Policymakers spent much of December trying to agree a deal to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff, which would have seen tax rises and spending cuts kick in at the beginning of January.

They eventually agreed to postpone a deal pending negotiations on the size of the cuts and tax rises.

Analysts said that consumer spending could suffer when the measures are implemented.

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