Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

National and World

January 3, 2013

Retailers report higher December sales

NEW YORK (AP) — A last-minute surge in spending seems to have saved the holiday shopping season for stores.

Major retailers including Costco, Gap and Nordstrom on Thursday reported better-than-expected revenue in December. That comes as a relief for stores that can make up to 40 percent of their annual revenue during the winter holiday shopping period that runs from November through the end of December.

Americans initially spent cautiously during the holiday season because of the damage after Superstorm Sandy. Then they were consumed by fears about the possibility of the U.S. economy falling off the "fiscal cliff," triggering massive budget cuts and tax increases that would mean much less money in their pockets. But they loosened their purse strings in the final shopping days of the year.

Twenty retailers reported that revenue at stores open at least a year — a figure that indicates a retailers' health — rose an average of 4.5 percent in December compared with the year-ago period, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers. That's on the high end of the expected range of 4 percent to 4.5 percent. Only a small group of stores representing about 13 percent of the $2.4 trillion U.S. retail industry report monthly revenue, but the data offers a snapshot of consumer spending.

"I wouldn't be doing cartwheels that it was a particularly great or strong holiday season, but it could have been worse given the headwinds," said Ken Perkins, president of RetailMetrics, a research firm. "The government and Mother Nature were not as cooperative as retailers would have liked. But it was definitely not as bad as feared."

December's results provide a brighter picture than reports earlier in the month that proclaimed that the holiday shopping season was shaping up to be the worst since 2008 when the U.S. was in a deep recession.

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