A U.S. Commerce Department report of December retail sales in the GAFS category, which includes most general merchandise categories, jumped 6.4% over the previous year. Combined, November and December brought holiday sales growth to 5.7%, the strongest growth since 1999 and higher than last year’s 5.1% increase.

The category that contains Sporting Goods retailers rose 3.1% versus last year. Sales at Sporting Goods stores rose 0.9% over November and the National Retail Federation said that Sporting Goods stores were up 4.2% over 2003.
General merchandise stores, which include department stores, grew 7.8% over the previous year. Clothing and clothing accessories stores rose an impressive 5.0% over the previous year.

“Even after all of the hand-wringing by retail analysts, the holiday season ended on strong footing,” said NRF Chief Economist Rosalind Wells. “Post-holiday discounting and gift-card redemptions helped provide a last-minute surge in spending.”