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Holiday retail rush falls short

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According to the Wall Street Journal, U.S. shoppers spent furiously in the days just before Christmas. But, holiday retail sales appeared to still fall short of industry expectations, according to new data, setting the stage for bigger markdowns in the increasingly important post-Christmas period.

The paper reports that the 11th-hour rush helped strengthen a weak holiday season. From the day after Thanksgiving to midnight Monday, total retail sales, excluding automobiles, rose 3.6 percent over the previous year, according to MasterCard SpendingPulse, a unit of MasterCard Advisors. But, factoring out spending on gasoline – which soared thanks to a 27 percent average price increase since this time last year – retail sales increased a lackluster 2.4 percent. Industry forecasts had predicted gains of 3.5 percent to as high as 4.5 percent.

“The surge at the beginning of the season and the surge at the end of the season definitely resulted in the modest growth that we saw,” the Journal quotes Michael McNamara, vice president of research and analysis for MasterCard Advisors. “If we didn’t have those surges, it would have been a negative story.”