With a sharp pullback in auto sales more than offset by strength in other areas, the Commerce Department released a report on Thursday showing U.S. retail sales rose in line with economist estimates in the month of December.

The Commerce Department said retail sales climbed by 0.3 percent in December, matching the upwardly revised increase in November.

Economists had expected retail sales to rise by 0.3 percent compared to the 0.2 percent uptick originally reported for the previous month.

The continued retail sales growth came even though sales by motor vehicle and parts dealers tumbled by 1.3 percent in December after jumping by 1.5 percent in November.

Excluding auto sales, retail sales advanced by 0.7 percent in December after coming in unchanged in November. Ex-auto sales had been expected to climb by 0.5 percent.

The bigger than expected increase in ex-auto sales was partly due to a spike in sales by gas stations, which surged up by 2.8 percent amid higher gas prices.

Sales by clothing and accessories stores, building materials and supplies stores, and sporting goods, hobby, musical instrument, and book stores also saw notable growth.

Closely watched core retail sales, which exclude autos, gasoline, building materials and food services, climbed by 0.5 percent in December after edging down by 0.1 percent in November.

Despite the strong core sales growth in December, Paul Ashworth, Chief U.S. Economist at Capital Economics, noted, "Downward revisions to earlier months means that fourth-quarter real consumption and GDP growth are still tracking close to 2.0% annualized."

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