Retail sales slowed considerably in December but capped an otherwise strong year for the sector, according to data released Thursday by the U.S. Commerce Department. The findings suggest consumers are still reluctant to return to pre-recession spending levels, especially with high debt levels, stagnant wage growth and widespread unemployment. Retail purchases climbed by a mild 0.1 percent last month, down from the upwardly revised 0.4 percent noted in November. However, both months saw total sales volumes of more than $400 billion - the highest such figures on record. Still, excluding auto sales, overall retail sales actually fell by 0.2 percent last month - the first decrease since May 2010. The retail landscape is riddled with uncertainty, but analysts still expect improved hiring trends, credit decisions
and consumer sentiment to drive the economic recovery during the first few months of the new year. "Although consumer spending is not particularly robust, households do continue to spend and provide moderate support for the overall economy," Steven Wood, chief economist at Insight Economics, told The Associated Press.