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Consumers' big purchases lift hopes for US economy

Dec. 13, 2013 @ 12:00 AM

WASHINGTON -- Americans ramped up spending at retail businesses in November, providing a boost to the economy just in time for the holidays.

But traditional retail stores didn't benefit as much from the latest burst of spending. Consumers bought more cars, electronics, furniture and other big-ticket items. They also did more shopping online. Those trends reflect changes in consumers' shopping habits and in the broader economy.

Total retail sales rose 0.7 percent in November, the Commerce Department said Thursday. It was the biggest gain in five months. And spending at retail businesses rose 0.6 percent in October, higher than previously estimated.

Steady hiring and modest wage gains have boosted consumers' confidence and given them more money to spend. Big increases in stock and home prices have also driven up household wealth. Stock indexes have reached record highs this year, disproportionately benefiting wealthier households.

Those trends are probably pushing up sales of more-expensive goods. Auto sales jumped 1.8 percent in November, furniture purchases increased 1.2 percent and sales at electronics and appliance stores rose 1.1 percent.

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