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

Disruptive Weather

Consumer confidence fell in December to a five-month low, according to a Dec. 21 report. The Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan consumer sentiment index slid to 72.9, the weakest since July, from 82.7 in November.

Sales in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast regions, which account for 24 percent of national consumer spending, contracted 3.9 percent and 1.4 percent, respectively, McNamara said. Upper Midwest spending also was hampered by disruptive weather, he said. By contrast, sales in the South and West ranged from about 2 percent to about 4 percent, he said.

Luxury sales “struggled,” pulled down by the New York region, which generates 20 percent of that category’s U.S. sales and was hit hard by the hurricane, McNamara said.

Apparel and consumer electronics sales performed in line with the national average, he said.

The only bright spot was home-related merchandise, which benefited from the housing rebound, he said.

Housing Repairs

The hurricane also spurred that category, Robin Lewis, a New York-based retail consultant, said in a telephone interview yesterday.

“Sandy reached into people’s holiday pocketbooks to pull money out that we spend on gifts to spend on ruined appliances, household repairs,” Lewis said.

Another restraining factor: the Dec. 14 shooting of 20 children at a Connecticut school, he said.

“The Newtown massacre, psychologically I think, spread through the country,” Lewis said. “This event was not isolated in the Northeast. It slammed the consumer with a lot of sobriety and made us think about what is happening in this world we live in, particularly around the holidays, when things are supposed to be wonderful and peaceful.”

Retailers “sabotaged” themselves by not offering greater discounts in the three days before Christmas, Burt Flickinger, managing director of Strategic Resource Group in New York, said today in an interview with Bloomberg Radio.

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