WASHINGTON — Retail sales rose 0.6% in December, but fell short of economic estimates, the Commerce Department reported Friday.

December sales excluding autos increased 0.5%. Sales excluding autos and gasoline stations rose 0.4% . Economists expected retail sales to increase 0.8% and sales excluding autos to gain 0.7%.

The modest gains follow a 0.8% increase in November retail sales and a 1% gain for sales excluding autos, which was revised down from an initial 1.2% level.

Retail sales in 2010 expanded at the fastest rate in 11 years in the wake of  the 18-month recession ended June 2009.

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