According to a Commerce Department report issued today, retail sales rose for the month of November by 1.3%, extending October’s gains of 1.1%, strengthened by auto sales and gasoline.

Despite a gloomy picture painted by U.S. retailers reporting underperformance for the start of the holiday season, worries have been somewhat allayed by this report, showing the biggest advance since retail sales spiked 2.4% in August, doubling economists’ expectations.

The prevailing wisdom, that high unemployment would keep consumer spending (which accounts for 70% of all economic activity) down and hamper the economy, prolonging what is quite possibly the worst recession since the 1930s, was challenged by the report’s November data.

November showed a 1.6% rise in auto sales according to the report, extending October gains of 7.1%, while department stores sales showed a 0.7% increase; 0.8% if one factors in other elements from the same sector.

Appliances and electronics stores showed a very robust 2.8% increase, while hardware stores also saw a healthy 1.5% growth rate in sales.

The remarkable exception to the otherwise glowing report was furniture store sales, which declined some 0.7%, baffling analysts who assumed the recent up-tick in home sales would have translated into better performance in this sector.

Additionally, several retailers such as Macy’s, Saks, Abercrombie & Fitch and Target all posted relatively sharper-than-expected sales declines. After more than a year of declines, big chain retailers posted gains for the last two months in a row, only to show a small drop in November, excluding the largest retailer, Wal-Mart, which no longer reports on its monthly sales.

With an overall 2.8% growth rate for the economy in the July-September quarter, the streak of four declines in a row is broken. Analysts’ expectations of weaker consumer spending for the remainder of the year and into early 2010, driven by unemployment, are shaken by the Commerce Department report issued today.