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Holiday spending surges 5.5 percent over last year

WASHINGTON — Retailers' 2010 holiday sales jumped 5.5 percent for the best performance in five years as shoppers snapped up clothing and jewelry at Macy's, Tiffany and other stores.

Retail sales, excluding autos, rose to $584 billion from Nov. 5 through Dec. 24, said MasterCard Advisors' SpendingPulse, which measures retail sales by all payment forms. That compared with a 4.1 percent gain a year earlier. The numbers include sales made over the Web.

Consumers bought coats at chains such as Bloomingdale's as their confidence improved alongside the job market. Their spending, which accounts for about 70 percent of the American economy, is a positive sign heading into next year, said Michael McNamara, a vice president at SpendingPulse.

"Increasing confidence has freed up more money from savings," McNamara said. "We pretty much put a bow on what has been a positive season across a number of retail areas. We are seeing this momentum building and being sustained."

A Northeast storm that dumped more than a foot of snow in areas from North Carolina to Massachusetts on Monday and Tuesday probably did little more than hamper store visits and won't dent the overall season's sales, McNamara predicted.

Last-minute Christmas shoppers pushed sales at stores open at least a year up 4.8 percent in the week ended Dec. 25, the strongest year-over-year gain since April, the International Council of Shopping Centers said Tuesday. The numbers are based on the ICSC-Goldman Sachs Weekly Chain Store Sales Index.

The New York-based trade group, which tracks more than 30 chains, said sales for the November-December period will rise 4 percent or more. That compares with a previous forecast of 3.5 to 4 percent.

Apparel sales grew the fastest in the 50 days before Christmas, with an 11 percent gain, more than 10 times the pace of last year. Sales of jewelry accelerated 8.4 percent, SpendingPulse said.

Luxury sales rose 6.7 percent, compared with 0.9 percent a year ago. Consumer electronics sales increased 1.2 percent after falling 4.6 percent a year earlier. Furniture climbed 3.8 percent after a 2.2 percent drop last year.

Tiffany, the world's second-largest luxury jewelry retailer, forecast a 10 percent increase in sales in the Americas this year after an 11 percent decline in the previous 12 months.

Buying increased after consumer confidence climbed in December to the highest level in six months. Initial jobless claims fell in the week ended Dec. 18 and the number of people on unemployment benefit rolls dropped to a two-year low, adding to evidence the labor market is improving.

Holiday spending surges 5.5 percent over last year 12/28/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 28, 2010 7:43pm]
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