National Retail Federation reports holiday sales rose 4 percent, shy of projections

U.S. holiday sales rose 4 percent from a year earlier, marking the biggest increase since 2011, after a longer shopping season and heavy discounts encouraged consumers to spend, according to the National Retail Federation.

Holiday spending growth had been forecast to rise a slightly higher 4.1 percent in the period, which spans November and December. Still, the increase was well above the previous year’s 3.1 percent gain and the 10-year average of 2.9 percent, according to the NRF.

Retailers spread discounts throughout the 2014 holiday season and relied less on major events such as Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving. Shoppers looking for deals also had more money in their wallets as job growth and lower gas prices padded incomes.

The federation’s report followed the release of the Commerce Department’s report that showed overall retail sales fell a seasonally adjusted 0.9 percent in December. That’s the largest decline since January. Gas station sales retreated sharply due to lower prices, but sales in most other categories also lost ground.

Excluding the volatile categories of gas, autos, building materials and restaurants, sales dropped 0.4 percent after rising 0.6 percent in November. Online and mail-order sales fell 0.3 percent, the most since April.

Earlier this month, researcher ShopperTrak said holiday spending jumped 4.6 percent from a year earlier. That was the biggest rise since 2005 and exceeded the Chicago-based company’s forecast for a 3.8 percent gain.

A separate research firm, First Data, said retail sales increased 3.2 percent from Nov. 1 to Jan. 4, up from a 0.5 percent gain in the year-earlier period. Sales climbed 5.3 percent from Thanksgiving through Cyber Monday, which follows the Black Friday weekend, the Atlanta-based firm said. That suggests spending slowed down in December.