Season best since 2006

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NEW YORK --- The holiday shopping season was the best since 2006, as a strong November more than offset spending that tapered off in December.

A stronger-than-expected November helped make this holiday shopping season the strongest since 2006. Disappointing December figures were offset by big sales early in the season.   File/Associated Press
File/Associated Press
A stronger-than-expected November helped make this holiday shopping season the strongest since 2006. Disappointing December figures were offset by big sales early in the season.

The strength of holiday sales suggests a recovery in consumer spending. For investors, whose expectations were riding high after a stronger-than-expected November, the December figures were disappointing. That hurt retail stocks Thursday.

Early holiday discounts, which started in late October, drove big sales early in the season but also had shoppers finishing more gift-buying before December. A lull early in December and a blizzard Dec. 26 in the Northeast also took bites out of sales.

From Oct. 31-Jan. 1, revenue at stores open at least a year rose 3.8 percent over last year, according to an index compiled by the International Council of Shopping Centers. That's the biggest increase since 2006, when the measurement rose 4.4 percent.

The index tailed off to a 3.1 percent increase in December after a 5.4 percent rise in November.

"The overall season was good, but the strength came from the beginning of the season," said Michael P. Niemira, the chief economist at International Council of Shopping Centers.

December's gains came on top of a solid 3.6 percent gain in December 2009; November's figures compare with a 0.2 percent decline.

Thursday's figures are based on revenue at stores open at least a year.

Spending rises

Analysts say that the holiday 2010 season also marked the time that spending in many categories returned to pre-recession levels. Online spending, in addition to spending on groceries, auto parts and clothing, are now above the pre-recession peak, according to MasterCard Advisors' SpendingPulse, which tracks all transactions including cash.

Jewelry, home furnishings and luxury goods are still below peaks, according to the data service.

-- Associated Press

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