U.S. retail sales rose solidly in November as Americans bought cars and other goods, a sign that the economy is strengthening.
Thursday's report from the Commerce Department says retail sales gained seven-tenths of one percent for the month, the strongest gain in five months. Economists and investors watch retail sales closely because consumer demand drives most U.S. economic activity.
The upbeat data comes as top officials of the U.S. central bank are trying to decide how soon to cut back efforts to stimulate the economy. The Federal Reserve has been buying $85 billion a month worth of bonds in an effort to stimulate the economy by reducing long-term interest rates.
Fed officials say they are also closely watching the job market, including a Labor Department report Thursday that shows the number of Americans applying for unemployment compensation rose sharply to hit 368,000 nationwide.
While jobless claims rose this week, a broader measure, the unemployment rate, improved three-tenths of a percent to hit a five-year low of 7 percent last week.