WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. Commerce Department reports on spending at retail businesses and restaurants in December. The report will be released at 8:30 a.m. Eastern Tuesday. SLIGHT GAIN: Economists expect that retail spending rose 0.2 percent in December, according to a survey by FactSet. That would follow November's 0.7 percent gain. The December report will show how much Americans spent in the final weeks before the holidays, a critical time for retailers. Expectations are lower after several major retailers reported disappointing sales. And weaker auto sales are expected to have held back overall retail spending in December. Excluding motor vehicles, economists forecast a 0.4 percent increase in retail spending. HOLIDAY SALES : The December report will give a more complete look into what has reportedly been lukewarm holiday shopping. Online sales increased just 10 percent to $46.5 billion in the last two months of 2013, short of a projected 14 percent gain, according to the research firm comScore. In-store traffic tumbled 14.6 percent this season compared with 2012, according to ShopperTrak, which monitors data at 40,000 stores. That limited sales growth in November and December to 2.7 percent, the analyst firm said. AUTO SALES LOSE MOMENTUM: Auto purchases cooled off last month, after surging in November and October. Motor vehicle companies said December sales were basically flat compared with a year ago, due to cold weather and Black Friday discounts that boosted November sales. The down month snapped a strong acceleration through much of last year. Auto sales rose 8 percent to 15.6 million in 2013, the best pace since 2007. Much of the increase in the previous two monthly consumer spending reports came from autos. DISAPPOINTING DECEMBER: The economy had been gaining jobs at a strong clip until last month, fueling hopes for stronger growth in 2014. But the Labor Department said Friday that just 74,000 jobs were added in December. The unemployment rate fell to 6.7 percent from 7 percent, largely because 347,000 unemployed Americans dropped out of the workforce. The economy had been creating an average of 213,500 jobs a month from August to November. Hiring and wage growth tends to bolster consumer spending, which accounts for 70 percent of all economic activity.
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