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Clothing helps surge in US holiday retail sales

  • Sales at US clothing stores were up nearly 3% year-on-year in the 2017 holiday season.

  • Sales at sporting goods stores were down 0.5%.

  • Overall, US holiday sales were up 5.5% during November and December.

A rise in sales at US clothing clothing retailers helped overall holiday season sales to the largest year-on-year increase since 2010, new figures show.

For the months of November and December, US holiday sales increased 5.5% year-on-year to US$691.9bn thanks to growing wages, stronger employment and higher consumer confidence, according to figures from the National Retail Federation (NRF).

The number, which excludes restaurants, automobile dealers and gasoline stations, includes $138.4bn in online and other non-store sales, which were up 11.5% over the year before.

Sales at clothing and accessories stores increased 2.7% unadjusted year-over-year, while sporting goods stores were down 0.5%. The results exceeded NRF's forecast of between $678.75bn and $682bn, which would have been an increase of between 3.6% and 4% – and marked the largest increase since the 5.2% year-over-year gain seen in 2010 after the end of the Great Recession. The retail group had forecast that non-store sales, which include online sales, would grow between 11% and 15% to between $137.7bn and $142.6bn.

December edged up 0.4% seasonally adjusted from November and was up 4.6% unadjusted year-over-year. "We knew going in that retailers were going to have a good holiday season but the results are even better than anything we could have hoped for, especially given the misleading headlines of the past year," says NRF president and CEO Matthew Shay.

"Whether they shopped in-store, online or on their phones, consumers were in the mood to spend, and retailers were there to offer them good value for their money. With this as a starting point and tax cuts putting more money into consumers' pockets, we are confident that retailers will have a very good year ahead."

NRF's numbers are based on data from the US Census Bureau, which reported last week that overall December sales – including automobiles, gasoline and restaurants – were up 0.4% seasonally adjusted from November and 5.4% year-over-year. With unemployment at a 17-year low, a pickup in income, strong consumer confidence and a rising stock market, NRF chief economist Jack Kleinhenz said a number of factors provided a strong base for spending during the holidays.

The season came on the heels of the three strongest monthly year-over-year gains for retail sales since the fourth quarter of 2014, nominal disposable personal income was up a combined 3.5% year-over-year in October and November, and consumers were feeling better about using their credit cards, with outstanding balances up 6% year-over-year. "The economy was in great shape going into the holiday season, and retailers had the right mix of inventory, pricing and staffing to help them connect with shoppers very efficiently," Kleinhenz said.

"Strong employment and more money in consumers' pockets along with the news of tax cuts clearly helped with the pace of shopping. The market conditions were right, retailers were doing what they know how to do, and it all worked. We think the willingness to spend and growing purchasing power seen during the holidays will be key drivers of the 2018 economy."

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