>Bloomberg News

WASHINGTON - U.S. retail sales advanced more than expected in November as auto spending rebounded, Commerce Department data showed.

The 0.9% rise, to $255.8 billion, was led by a 2.4% increase in sales at auto dealerships. October retail sales rose a revised 0.3% after initially being reported as unchanged. Analysts had expected November sales to increase 0.5%.

Excluding autos and trucks, retail sales grew 0.4% in November after rising a revised 0.8% the month before (originally reported as a 0.5% gain).

"People sure aren't backing away from buying anything," said David Wyss, an economist at Standard & Poor's DRI in Lexington, Mass., before the report's release. For retailers "there's evidence this is going to be a strong Christmas."

Auto sales rose the most since August and succeeded two months of declines. The gains helped durable-goods sales rise 1.5%, also the biggest increase since August.

"The holiday season started off with a bang," Deutsche Bank analyst Marcia Aaron said. "People realized they were less than 30 days away from Christmas and went shopping."

Retail sales benefited from an unemployment rate that in November was 4.1%, the lowest in 29 years, and wealth created by a rising stock market. Capital gains from home sales also are likely to boost consumer spending and the economy in the years ahead, Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan said in a speech Nov. 2.

Gains from home sales account for about one-sixth of the overall increase in U.S. consumers' wealth, he said.

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