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Canada retail sales hit record high in November

Retail sales in Canada rose slightly higher than expected in November, thanks in part to pre-holiday shopping events such as Black Friday that boosted sales of consumer segments such as electronics.

Retail sales rose by 0.2 per cent to $39.4 billion in November, a fifth consecutive monthly sales gain, Statistics Canada said on Tuesday.

Big gains were seen in electronics, furniture and home furnishing, as well as sporting goods and hobby stores, all categories that tend to be popular in the pre-holiday shopping season, said Emanuella Enenajor, an economist at CIBC World Markets.

"Retailers can once again thank a stronger Black Friday push in November for helping to gussy up their bottom lines," she said.

The data was a tad better than market expectations, although excluding auto sales the numbers were softer by 0.3 per cent. The prior month’s data were revised down a little to 0.5 per cent, with ex-auto sales cut to 0.2 per cent.

Car sales also helped to boost the broader numbers, rising by 1.8 per cent, while other categories such as building materials and merchandise stores were weaker. Gasoline station sales fell by 2.3 per cent.

With hefty holiday discounting, volumes were up 0.8 per cent, which will likely support a healthy gain in the month’s gross domestic product print, said Enenajor.

The data is a "touch stronger than market expectations for an unchanged print," said Mazen Issa, Canada macro strategist at TD Securities. Issa noted strength in the electronics group likely came from the product releases such as the iPhone 5 and the arrival of Black Friday in Canada.

Holiday sales are crucial for retailers with Black Friday a hugely anticipated event. The figures are watched closely as a gauge of consumer spending activity, which is important for the economy.

Back Friday and Cyber Monday have been growing in popularity in Canada, with many retailers offering steep discounts to keep consumers from cross-border shopping given the strength of the Canadian dollar.

Moneris Solutions, which offers debit, wireless and online payment services for merchants, said in December spending on those two busy shopping days rose 6.5 per cent and 22.5 per cent, respectively, from 2011.

In the U.S., Black Friday retail sales online soared 26 per cent and topped $1 billion this year for the first time as more consumers used the Internet to shop, according to data from comScore Inc, which tracks and analyzes digital trends.