The strength of holiday sales suggests a recovery in consumer spending. For investors, whose expectations were riding high after a stronger-than-expected November, the December figures were disappointing. That hurt retail stocks Thursday.
Early holiday discounts, which started in late October, drove big sales early in the season but also had shoppers finishing more gift-buying before December. A lull early in December and a blizzard Dec. 26 in the Northeast also took bites out of sales.
From Oct. 31-Jan. 1, revenue at stores open at least a year rose 3.8 percent over last year, according to an index compiled by the International Council of Shopping Centers. That's the biggest increase since 2006, when the measurement rose 4.4 percent.
The index tailed off to a 3.1 percent increase in December after a 5.4 percent rise in November.
"The overall season was good, but the strength came from the beginning of the season," said Michael P. Niemira, the chief economist at International Council of Shopping Centers.
December's gains came on top of a solid 3.6 percent gain in December 2009; November's figures compare with a 0.2 percent decline.
Thursday's figures are based on revenue at stores open at least a year.