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RETAIL SALES SURGE FOR 6TH MONTH

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Retail sales surged 1.2 percent in November, the sixth straight advance, as the Christmas shopping season got off to a flying start at the end of the month.

The Commerce Department Tuesday also revised upward, to 1.3 percent from an earlier estimate of 1.1 percent, the increase in total sales for October.The November gain, more than double what many analysts predicted, was practically across the board and likely will fuel new speculation that the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates yet again to slow a consumer-driven economic expansion.

The Fed's key policy-setting panel, the Federal Open Market Committee, is due to meet in one week. The central bank has boosted short-term interest rates six times since February, but the tightening has had limited effect in slowing economic growth.

The Commerce Department said sales totaled a seasonally adjusted $194.2 billion in November, up from $191.9 billion.

Retail sales have risen every month since May when they were unchanged. They are 8.7 percent higher than a year ago.

Analysts said that Americans continue to spend, despite higher interest rates, as higher employment and incomes feed consumer confidence. Retail sales represent about half of all consumer expenditures.