Retail sales gained in November

December 15, 1993|By New York Times News Service

WASHINGTON -- Spending heavily for big-ticket goods, shoppers kicked off the holiday gift-giving season by sending retail sales in November up briskly, a preliminary tabulation by the Commerce Department showed yesterday.

Consumers shoved $178.93 billion across counters last month, four-tenths of 1 percent more than in October, despite severe wintry weather that curtailed activity in much of the country toward the end of the month.

Although the rise was less than some expected, the Clinton administration and most private analysts expressed satisfaction with it, noting that this was the eighth straight rise in retail spending, a category accounting for one-third of the nation's economic activity.

They also noted that the department revised upward its sales tally for the two preceding months, with October now showing a robust 1.8 percent surge.

"They're really strong," said Susan M. Hering, an economist at Salomon Brothers, of yesterday's results. "Consumers are spending with considerable abandon."

Perhaps the most impressive reading was a 3.7 percent jump in spending at stores selling furniture and other home equipment, the biggest monthly advance in 10 years, according to C. J. Lawrence, a New York investment house.

This, along with a 1.1 percent rise for building materials, hardware, garden supplies and mobile homes, appeared to result from a pickup in the housing market during autumn.

Commerce Secretary Ronald H. Brown pointed to this as evidence that cuts in interest rates, which he said were made possible by the administration's economic program, "are fueling the recovery."

The November gain was achieved even without a contribution from the automotive sector, which edged down one-tenth of 1 percent last month after soaring 5 percent in October.

Leaving out motor vehicles, retail sales rose five-tenths of 1 percent in November, compared with a nine-tenths of 1 percent October gain.

Tracy Mullin, president of the National Retail Federation, called last month's sales gain a "moderate" prelude to what is likely to be a holiday season surpassed in recent years only by last year's spending spree.

"Consumers are doing window-shopping in November, trying to size things up," Ms. Mullin said. "We expect them to do the buying in December."

She also predicted that sales would continue strong after the holidays. Between Christmas and Easter, members expect a 5.5 percent increase, up from 4.2 percent last year, she said.

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