A woman shops for clothes at a department
Retailers are saluting the Reserve Bank of Australia’s decision to keep the cash rate stable, as the early part of 2011 continues the ‘challenging’ theme of 2010 for the sector. REUTERS

Retail sales in October picked up pace, and brightened the outlook for year-end Christmas shopping as purchases rose 1.2 percent, the highest in the last seven months.

This is higher than the median estimate of 74 economists surveyed by Bloomberg, who predicted a rise of 0.7 percent. Forecasts in the estimate ranged from increase of 0.4 percent to 1.1 percent

“We expect the holiday shopping season to really ramp up in November,” Guy LeBas, chief fixed-income strategist at Janney Montgomery Scott LLC in Philadelphia, who forecast a 1.1 percent gain in sales is quoted as saying in a Bloomberg report.

J.C. Penney, the third-largest U.S. department-store company, last week said third-quarter profit rose 63 percent. Fourth-quarter sales at stores open at least a year will rise 3 to 4 percent, the Plano, Texas-based company said in a Nov. 12 statement, adding that the holiday shopping environment will “remain highly promotional.

Companies may be stocking up ahead of the holidays in anticipation of better sales, another report showed today. Inventories rose 0.9 percent in September, more than forecast, according to figures from the Commerce Department. Auto dealers and building material stores led the advance.

The upbeat mood among retailers comes even as the unemployment rate is around 10 per cent and is set to hover between 9-10 percent next year as well.