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Euro zone shopping plunges at Christmas as growth slows

People stroll at Munich's main shopping street ahead of the Christmas celebrations in Munich

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Consumers in the euro zone tightened their belts in December despite the Christmas shopping season, official estimates on retail trade showed on Wednesday, contributing to the bloc's paltry growth at the end of last year.

Eurostat said retail trade volume in the 19-country currency bloc dropped 1.6% in December from the previous month, the worst fall in more than two years, and far below the average 0.9% decrease forecast by economists polled by Reuters.

The unexpectedly large fall in retail sales partly explains the disappointing 0.1% growth the bloc is estimated to have recorded in the period covering the last three months of 2019, slowing down from 0.3% in the third quarter.

In December month-on-month retail trade dropped in all sectors except for online sales, which were up 2.0%.

Shopping volume for clothing and footwear fell 2.8% on the month, while purchases of computer equipment and books went down by 2.1%.

The overall month-on-month fall is the worst since October 2017, Eurostat data showed.

Year-on-year, overall sales volume grew 1.3%, a slowdown from the 2.3% increase of November, mostly driven by a surge in online shopping, and despite drops in purchases of car fuel, clothing, food, drinks and tobacco.

(Reporting by Francesco Guarascio @fraguarascio; editing by Philip Blenkinsop)