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    December Retail Sales Increase Less Than Expected; Supermarket Sales Up 4 Percent

    WASHINGTON - U.S. shoppers kept on buying in December but at a slower pace, as retail sales posted a smaller-than-expected gain in the last month of the holiday season, a Commerce Department report on Thursday said. Meanwhile the nation's grocery stores saw December sales rise 4.0 percent compared to 2002, to $40.6 billion.

    WASHINGTON - U.S. shoppers kept on buying in December but at a slower pace, as retail sales posted a smaller-than-expected gain in the last month of the holiday season, a Commerce Department report on Thursday said. Meanwhile the nation's grocery stores saw December sales rise 4.0 percent compared to 2002, to $40.6 billion.

    The Commerce Department said retail sales rose 0.5 percent in December to $325.04 billion, less than half the revised 1.2 percent gain in November. purchases.

    In a separate government report released on Thursday, U.S. consumer prices rose modestly in December, as expected.

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