A major snowstorm on the U.S. East Coast kept many people away from malls on the day after Christmas, casting a pall on the final act of the holiday shopping season.
Holiday sales are predicted to rise significantly from 2009 and represent the best spending in three years. Clear weather during most of the period between U.S. Thanksgiving Day on Nov. 25 and Christmas also helped.
The weekend's blizzard conditions, which shut down airports and halted traffic, may also signal an end to shoppers' appetite in the next few months. People who did venture out signaled that they were ready for a spending diet in early 2011 as they wait for a U.S. economic recovery to gain momentum and add jobs.
Clyde Johnson, a 45 year-old train operator from Yonkers, New York, was shopping on Sunday at a J.C. Penney store in Manhattan, but said he would cut back as soon as the holidays end.
"If I can't afford something or I feel it is too much and I really want it, I will save until I have the money," he said.
U.S. retailers try to lure additional spending in the days after Christmas from shoppers looking to return gift items or cash in on store gift cards.
Mall operator Taubman Centers Inc. said a number of shopping centers it operates saw light traffic on Sunday because of the storm, which dumped more than a foot of snow in New York and other major East Coast cities, and as of Monday morning was heading to New England.
For example, Taubman's Northlake Mall in Charlotte, North Carolina, saw thin traffic on Sunday until the roads were cleared, the mall operator said. Shopper traffic was further impeded by the day after Christmas falling on a Sunday.
A pullback by shoppers now that the holidays are winding down could dent the U.S. economy's recovery, since consumer spending accounts for 70 percent of gross domestic product.
Kizzy Pruitt, 31, was shopping at a Wal-Mart in Hudson, Massachusetts, on Friday. She has spent less this year, even though she has been able to hang on to her job as a truck dispatcher.
"I'll be all done after this," Pruitt said of her shopping plans for the near future.
Retail spending in November beat expectations, leading industry groups and analysts to raise forecasts for the holiday season. The National Retail Federation sees holiday sales up 3.3 percent from a year ago, a major jump from the 0.4 percent increase last year, and the 3.9 percent fall in 2008 due to the financial markets' crisis.
Wall Street analysts are expecting December comparable sales at 28 major U.S. retailers, including Target Corp. and Macy's Inc. to be up 3.6 percent, led by discounters and department stores.
Retailers' strong results have lifted consumer stocks this year. The S&P Retail Index hit a 3-1/2 year high in early December and has rallied 24.5 percent in 2010, almost twice the pace of overall gains in the Standard and Poor's 500 Index.
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