Retail sales edged down 0.2 per cent in December to $37.3 billion, following a notable increase in November and six months of gains.

Sales by volume fell 0.4 per cent. Statistics Canada reports losses in five of 11 subsectors, representing 66 per cent of total retail sales.

"Retail sales numbers in November and December account for nearly one in five dollars earned by retailers all year," TD Economist Sonya Gulati noted. "This month’s data confirms that November’s impressive consumer spending activity did not carry forward into December."

The agency says the largest decrease among all subsectors was registered by motor vehicle and parts dealers, where sales fell 2.8 per cent.

The decline came mainly from a 2.7 per cent drop at new car dealers, ending a series of seven straight monthly increases.

By contrast, furniture and home furnishing stores were up 1.9 per cent, and gasoline stations saw their sales activity inch up 7.6 per cent.

On an annual basis, retail sales in current dollars rose 5.1 per cent between 2009 and 2010, with 10 of the 11 subsectors advancing.

Retail sales by volume rose 4.5 per cent last year.

Higher sales were reported in all provinces in 2010. Alberta registered the largest gain with a 5.7 per cent increase.

"Even with the solid handoff into 2011 that we saw in this past quarter, the contribution of consumer spending to economic growth will wane as interest rates slowly inch up over the next eighteen months," Gulati said.

With files from The Canadian Press