NEW YORK (MarketWatch) – Holiday sales rose 4% to $ 616.1 billion, the biggest growth since 2011, the National Retail Federation reported Wednesday. The increase is slightly short of the trade group’s forecast in October that sales would rise 4.1%, a full percentage point ahead of 2013 holiday season’s gain and above the 10-year average annual increase of 2.9%. NRF said December sales, excluding auto, gas stations and restaurants, fell 0.9% month-over-month and rose 4.6% on an unadjusted basis year-over-year. NRF said the sharp decline in gasoline prices contributed to the monthly decrease in December sales. “Today’s holiday retail sales results are welcome news for our industry and for our economy,” said NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay. “There is every reason to believe that we have moved well beyond the days of consumer pessimism and that the trajectory for retailers continues to point up.” Despite NRF’s positive sentiment, the government’s disappointing December retail sales data sent the markets to a tailspin.