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U.S. Retailers’ Holiday Sales Jump 5.5% on Apparel

U.S. Retailers' Holiday Sales Increase 5.5%
Shoppers stand outside Macy's Herald Square store in New York. Photographer: Jin Lee/Bloomberg

U.S. 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 Inc., Tiffany & Co. 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 in recent months alongside the U.S. job market. Their spending, which accounts for about 70 percent of the American economy, is a positive sign heading into next year, Michael McNamara, a vice president at Purchase, New York-based SpendingPulse, said yesterday.

“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 Dec. 26 and Dec. 27 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 today in a statement. The numbers are based on the ICSC-Goldman Sachs Weekly Chain Store Sales Index.

Retail Index

The Standard & Poor’s 500 Retailing Index dropped 1.39 points to 509.09 at 4:02 p.m. New York time. The index has gained 24 percent this year, compared with a 13 percent increase for the S&P 500.

The ICSC, a 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 percent 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, SpendingPulse said.

Return of Men

Menswear sales figures from SpendingPulse underscored the return of the male shopper this season. Menswear sales grew 11 percent, while women’s clothing gained 5.6 percent, it said. Men planned to spend about 3 percent more on the holiday than they did in 2009; women planned to spend about 1 percent less, according to an October survey conducted by BIGresearch.

Sales of jewelry accelerated 8.4 percent, SpendingPulse said, compared with 3.5 percent a year ago. 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. Macy’s, the second-largest U.S. department store chain, on Dec. 2 boosted its fourth-quarter forecast for sales at stores open at least a year to as much as 4.5 percent from a previous maximum of 4 percent.

Americans thronged pop-up stores, which grew in number this season. Toys ‘R’ Us Inc., for example, boosted the number of holiday season temporary shops this year to 600, from 90 a year ago, and hired 10,000 workers to operate them.

Less Discounting

U.S. consumers also shelled out more because many retailers held the line on discounts after controlling inventories. This helped boost profit margins during the biggest shopping period of the year, according to Ken Perkins, president of Retail Metrics Inc., and may mean better profits this quarter.

Buying increased after consumer confidence climbed in December to the highest level in six months, as measured by the Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan final index of consumer sentiment. Initial U.S. 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.

Today, the Conference Board reported that confidence among U.S. consumers unexpectedly fell in December, raising questions about whether spending could maintain its momentum into 2011.

Confidence “is certainly a long way from normal,” Brian Bethune, chief U.S. financial economist at IHS Global Insight in Lexington, Massachusetts, said before that report. “I don’t think we’re going to get back to normal for quite some time, maybe 2012.”

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