Weak growth ... US consumers remain reluctant to spend, analysts say.

Weak growth ... US consumers remain reluctant to spend, analysts say. Photo: AP

US holiday retail sales this year have grown at the weakest pace since 2008, when the country was in a deep recession.

In 2012, the shopping season was disrupted by bad weather and consumers' rising uncertainty about the economy.

A report that tracks spending on popular holiday goods, the MasterCard Advisors SpendingPulse, said on Tuesday that sales in the two months before Christmas increased 0.7 per cent, compared with last year.

Many analysts had expected holiday sales to grow 3 to 4 per cent.

In 2008, sales declined by between 2 per cent and 4 per cent as the financial crisis that crested that fall dragged the economy into recession.

Last year, by contrast, retail sales in November and December rose between 4 per cent and 5 per cent, according to ShopperTrak, a separate market research firm.

A 4 per cent increase is considered a healthy season.

Shoppers were buffeted this year by a string of events that made them less likely to spend - superstorm Sandy and other bad weather, the distraction of the presidential election and grief about the massacre of schoolchildren in Newtown.

The numbers also show how Washington's current budget impasse is trickling down to Main Street and unsettling consumers.

If US consumers remain reluctant to spend, analysts say, economic growth could falter next year.

AP