updated 12/13/2004 10:11:32 AM ET 2004-12-13T15:11:32

Shoppers showed a small bit of cheer at the cash registers in November, boosting sales at the nation’s retailers by 0.1 percent.

Major Market Indices

The newest snapshot of consumers’ buying appetite, issued by the Commerce Department on Monday, turned out to be somewhat brighter than the flat showing in sales that economists were expecting.

To be sure, consumers were more selective in their purchases in November, compared with October. Retail sales increased by 0.8 percent in October from the previous month, according to revised figures. That was much stronger than the 0.2 percent increase first estimated.

Economists closely watch consumers’ behavior because their spending accounts for roughly two-thirds of all economic activity in the United States.

Shoppers spent on electronics and appliances, building materials and garden supplies, groceries and other items. They boosted sales at bars and restaurants. But they cut back on purchases of cars, clothes and sporting goods, books and music.

Excluding sales of automobiles, which can swing widely from month to month, sales at all other merchants in November rose by a solid 0.5 percent, exceeding some analysts’ forecasts for a more moderate 0.3 percent gain. In October, sales for this category excluding automobiles, went up by a brisk 1.1 percent.

Concerns about high energy prices and the availability of jobs are taking their toll on some consumers and making them think twice about their spending, analysts said.

Job growth slowed in November. The economy added a net 112,000 positions in that month, down from 303,000 in October.

While the recovery in the labor markets has had ups and downs, the economy, however, has managed to move solidly ahead. And that is helping inflation to pick up.

Economists expect the Federal Reserve on Tuesday to raise short-term interest rates for a fifth time this year, an effort aimed at making sure inflation doesn’t become a threat. Analysts are predicting a quarter-point boost, which would leave a key interest rate at 2.25 percent.

In Monday’s report, sales of at automobile dealerships dropped by 1.3 percent in November, following a 0.5 percent decline in October. That was the biggest factor tempering the strength of retail sales for last month.

Sales at clothing stores dipped 0.1 percent last month, compared with a 2.4 percent rise in October. Sales at sporting goods, books and music stores dropped by 1.2 percent, after a 0.3 percent gain.

Department store sales in November slipped 0.1 percent, following a 0.6 percent rise. Major retailers, earlier this month, had reported a lackluster start to the holiday shopping season with disappointing sales during the Thanksgiving weekend.

Furniture stores sales were flat in November, compared with a 0.9 percent advance in October.

But consumers sent sales at electronics and appliances stores up by 1 percent in November, a turnaround from the 0.3 percent drop in October.

Sales at building and garden supply stores rose 1.1 percent last month, after being flat in October.

Grocery stores sales increased 0.7 percent, on top of a 0.4 percent rise.

Sales at bars and restaurants rose 0.2 percent in November, following a 1.4 percent increase.

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