WASHINGTON, Jan 14 (Reuters) - A gauge of U.S. consumer spending rose more than expected in December, suggesting the economy gathered steam at the end of last year and was poised for stronger growth in 2014.
The Commerce Department said on Tuesday retail sales excluding automobiles, gasoline, building materials and food services, increased 0.7 percent last month after a 0.2 percent rise in November.
The so-called core sales correspond most closely with the consumer spending component of gross domestic product. Economists polled by Reuters had expected core retail sales to rise 0.3 percent in December.
The increase suggested consumer spending accelerated in the fourth quarter from the third quarter. It was also the latest indication of strong momentum in the economy at the end of 2013.
Core sales last month were lifted by a 1.8 percent rise in receipts at clothing stores. Sales at food and beverage stores recorded their largest increase in seven years. There were also increases in online store sales.
A cold snap during the month likely contributed to holding down sales of automobiles. Receipts at auto dealers fell 1.8 percent, the largest decline since October 2012. Auto sales had risen 1.9 percent in November.
That limited overall retail sales to a 0.2 percent gain in December. Retail sales increased 0.4 percent in November.
Economists had expected retail sales to edge up 0.1 percent last month.
Retail sales excluding automobiles rose 0.7 percent. Sales of furniture, sporting goods, building materials and garden equipment and electronic appliances fell. (Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Andrea Ricci)