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Holiday sales hit pre-recession levels

Dec. 27, 2010 at 8:54 PM

NEW YORK, Dec. 27 (UPI) -- U.S. consumers increased their holiday season spending to push overall pre-Christmas sales to a five-year high, retail analysts said Monday.

Preliminary data compiled for MasterCard Advisors by retail spending tracker SpendingPulse indicated consumers spent an estimated $584.3 billion during the 50 days leading up to Christmas, compared with $566.3 billion during the same period of 2007, The New York Times reported. Spending during the 2010 Christmas shopping season was up 5.5 percent from 2009, outperforming some of the most optimistic analysts' estimates, the newspaper said.

Holidays sales were up 4 percent year-to-year in 2009, following a drop of 6 percent in 2008.

Spending on apparel rose 11.2 percent this season. Spending on jewelry was up 8.4 percent, consumers spent 6.7 percent more on luxury goods, and home furniture sales were up for the first time in five years -- although the Times notes furniture sales have yet to return to pre-recession numbers.

In an e-mail to the Times, Craig R. Johnson, president of the consulting firm Customer Growth Partners, said the U.S. consumer "has single-handedly picked himself off the mat, brushed his troubles off and strapped the U.S. economy on his back."

Analysts attributed the higher-than-expected growth to pent-up demand and growing consumer confidence in the economy, among other factors.

The National Retail Federation had forecast a 3.3 percent increase in consumer spending for the holidays, while the research service ShopperTrak had estimated sales would increase by 4 percent.

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