U.S. holiday sales rise 0.7% as Washington hurts confidence

U.S. holiday sales growth slowed by more than half this year after gridlock in Washington soured consumers’ moods and Hurricane Sandy disrupted shopping, MasterCard Advisors SpendingPulse said.

Retail sales grew by 0.7 percent from Oct. 28 through Dec. 24, the Purchase, New York, research firm said yesterday, without providing a dollar figure in the billions. Sales grew at a 2 percent pace in the same period a year ago. SpendingPulse tracks total U.S. sales at stores and online via all payment forms.

Americans became skittish as Washington approached the end of the year without an agreement to forestall higher taxes and automatic spending cuts -- the so-called fiscal cliff. Hurricane Sandy interrupted shopping in stores and online after it slammed into the East Coast in late October. Last month, retailers from Macy’s Inc. to Target Corp. posted same-store sales that trailed analysts’ estimates.

“You are looking at modest to marginal growth from a year ago,” Michael McNamara, a SpendingPulse vice president, said in a telephone interview yesterday. “Weather events and the fiscal debate both anchored the season in terms of growth. The media coverage, which did a good job of explaining the negative consequences of the fiscal cliff, created this negative trend in consumer confidence and spending.”

Clearance Sales

The International Council of Shopping Centers reiterated today that it expects sales at retailers’ stores open at least a year to climb 3 percent in November and December, slower than the 3.3 percent gain last year.

Sales increased 0.7 percent in the week ending Dec. 22 from a week earlier, ICSC said in a statement. It predicted stronger sales this week, benefiting from purchases in the two days before Christmas. Clearance sales and gift card redemption will spur sales, said Michael Niemira, ICSC vice president and chief economist.

Niemera said he doesn’t expect retailers to resort to “huge across-the-board type of reductions” in after-Christmas sales.

The New York-based trade group maintained its projection that retailers will report comparable sales increases of 4 percent to 4.5 percent for December when they issue their latest monthly reports Jan. 3. ICSC tracks more than 25 chains.

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