Retail inventories rose 0.6 percent in November, leading all categories. Wholesale stockpiles grew 0.3 percent, while manufacturing inventories were flat.
Income growth remains weak, constraining the amount that consumers can devote to increased spending. Consumer spending drives roughly 70 percent of economic activity.
Job growth has been steady, although unemployment is still high at 7.8 percent. In December, employers added 155,000 jobs, roughly matching the monthly average in 2011 and 2012.
The economy has shown some signs of improvement. The once-battered housing market is recovering, which should lead to more construction jobs in the coming months. Autos sales in 2012 were the best in five years. And a gauge of U.S. service firms' business activity expanded in December by the most in nearly a year.