Holiday Spending Up Over Last Year

Holiday retail sales were up 5.5 percent over last year — a surprisingly strong number. Apparel, jewelry and luxury items led the way. The new numbers offer more hope for the overall economy.

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The holiday retail sales numbers are looking good. A new report shows a surprisingly strong 5.5 percent increase over last year. Clothes, jewelry and luxury items led the way.

Here's more from NPR's Wendy Kaufman.

WENDY KAUFMAN: Seattle area resident Joel Argudo and his wife are a retailer's dream. They had been putting money away all year. And then, Argudo, who's a manager at a cargo shipping terminal got a Christmas bonus and a raise. When I caught up with them at a shopping mall yesterday, they said they'd spent a lot more than last year. And what did they buy?

Mr. JOEL ARGUDO: Nothing really big except for a TV for our bedroom, but a lot of gift cards, clothes, shoes, toys for the young one, stuff like that.

KAUFMAN: Another mall visitor Ryan Priest bought clothes for his mother and lots of computer stuff. He bought much of it online, helping to fuel a 15 percent plus increase in online holiday sales.

Mr. RYAN PRIEST: I live in Chicago so just shipping everything online is much easier than trying to pack it all into a suitcase. That way it was all at the door when I get home for the holidays.

KAUFMAN: Purchases like theirs are added up and analyzed in the latest MasterCard SpendingPulse report, which looks at overall retail sales from early November to Christmas Eve.

Michael McNamara of SpendingPulse says Americans spent $584 billion or about $30 billion more than last year.

Mr. MICHAEL McNAMARA (Vice president of research and analysis, SpendingPulse): The main story this year is growth. From an historical context standpoint, in 2008, retail sales really got knocked down. In 2009 we found our feet, you know, we got some stability underneath us. And then in 2010, we've fairly - you know, this is a step forward, this is a step toward growth.

KAUFMAN: And he says it was healthy growth. There was less discounting than last year, and that should translate to higher retail profits and perhaps more hiring in the coming year.

Wendy Kaufman, NPR News, Seattle.

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