Holiday retail sales: A case of haves, have-nots


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Holiday sales reflected the growing divide between haves and have nots: Internet sellers and old-fashioned department stores such as WalMart.

The numbers: Sales at U.S. retailers rose 0.4% in December to mark the fourth straight gain.

The increase was a notch below the MarketWatch forecast of 0.5%, but sales for November and October were both revised higher.

Excluding autos and gasoline, retail sales also rose 0.4% last month.

What happened: Holiday sales spotlighted the growing divide between fast-growing internet retailers and old-fashioned department stores.

Sales at internet and related retailers jumped 1.2% in December, while sales at department stores tumbled 1.1%. That was the biggest decline in a year and a half.

Online sellers have been taking market share away from traditional retailers for years as Americans shift on internet shopping.

Sales also fell at stores that sell electronics and appliances, clothing and sporting goods and hobby items.

Joining internet sellers at the top of the heap were restaurants, home and garden centers and stores that sell home furnishings.

Auto sales rose 0.2% and sales at gasoline stations were flat.

Big picture: The 2017 holiday shopping season was very good, not great, if the latest retail sales numbers are spot on. Sales got off to a great start around Thanksgiving but appeared to lose steam in the final weeks.

Still, it was a good year overall. Retail sales rose a healthy 4.2% — the biggest increase in three years — to reflect the strongest U.S. economy since the early 2000s.

A roaring jobs market has pushed consumer confidence to a nearly two-decade high and encouraged Americans to spend a bit more freely than they have in the past.

Market reaction: The Dow Jones Industrial Average

DJIA, +0.60%

and S&P 500 index

SPX, +0.33%

were set to open slightly higher in Friday trades.

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