Seasonal hiring up, holiday sales in line with forecasts

Holiday retail sales fell in line with seasonal forecasts, up 3.8 percent in the final two months of last year, the National Retail Federation (NRF) reported on Tuesday. 

Sales for November and December were up to $601.8 billion, just shy of NRF’s projected forecast of 3.9 percent and $602.1 billion.

Meanwhile, a separate report on Tuesday showed that retail employment grew by a better-than-expected 801,100 jobs over the final three months of the year, making it the strongest holiday hiring period since 1999, according to an analysis by global outplacement consultancy Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

Overall, the three-month hiring total was up 6.6 percent from the previous year.

As it turns out, severe winter weather in December didn't dampen sales as retailers provided shoppers with big promotions and last-minute deals.

Overall retail sales last month, which excludes automobiles, gas stations and restaurants, increased 0.4 percent seasonally adjusted month-to-month, and 4.6 percent unadjusted year-over-year, according to the NRF. 

NRF also found that e-commerce sales increased 9.3 percent to $95.7 billion.

"Despite facing a truncated holiday season, severe weather and shaky consumer confidence, retailers rose to the challenge and executed their strategies with proven success,” said NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay.

“Today’s holiday sales numbers are a testament to a resilient industry that knows what their customers want, when they want it and how they want to get it..

Shay said that the report provides "a level of true optimism that the recovery is picking up steam, and once again, retail leads the way.”

A separate report from the Commerce Department showed that December's retail sales increased 0.2 percent and 4.1 percent adjusted year-over-year.

"Retail sales have been volatile all year and the holiday shopping season was no exception,” said NRF chief economist Jack Kleinhenz.

"Solid job growth in the months of October and November led to a more-confident consumer and healthy holiday shopping season for many retailers. While economic and policy uncertainties remain, the economy seems set for steady growth in the New Year.”

The increase was due primarily to strong hiring in October and December.  November employment gains were down 6 percent from a year earlier.

Retailers added 176,500 workers in December, which is a 63 percent increase from the 108,000 workers hired in December 2012, the largest December employment gain for the retail sector since 2005.

“Heading into the holiday season, we anticipated hiring to be flat or come in lower than the previous year," said John Challenger, chief executive officer of Challenger.  

"There were many factors contributing to this view, including the fact that consumer confidence was shaken by the recent government shutdown, wages for the majority of Americans remain flat, and millions remain unemployed or underemployed as the economy struggles to recover."