A little less "Ho! Ho! Ho!" amongst Christmas retailers


By Shelly Banjo | December 25, 2012, 5:57 p.m. ET

The annual holiday shop-a-thon drew to a muted close for many retailers, according to preliminary data, reflecting what some experts said was the slowest growth in spending since the 2008 recession.

For the eight weeks from Oct. 28 through Christmas Eve, retail sales for the holidays rose just 0.7% from the year before, according to MasterCard Inc.’s SpendingPulse unit.

After falling 5.5% in 2008, holiday sales rebounded strongly in 2009 and 2010, and rose about 2% last year, according to the company’s data, which are based on sales activity in the MasterCard payments network and estimates for all other forms of payment, including cash and checks. The figures exclude restaurants and sales of automobiles, groceries and gasoline.

This year, “it’s a lost season,” said Michael McNamara, Spending Pulse’s vice president of research and analysis. “Sales and volume are about the same as last year, but the growth was marginal.”

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A significant part of the loss was attributed to a steep decline in sales in the mid-Atlantic states hit by Hurricane Sandy. However, it was also noted that online sales, which had been posting consistent double-digit gains every year, grew by a more modest 8.4%.

Your Editor suspects that there will be commentators on both the right and the left, trying to blame the lowered growth rates on politics, whether on the public’s impression that the economy will not be helped by the re-election of President Obama or fears concerning the so-called fiscal cliff, but the drag in the region hit by Hurricane Sandy lowered the total growth rate, and is sufficient to explain the decline.

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