Healthy retail sales gains are an encouraging sign, but an Oppenheimer analyst cautioned Wednesday that consumers have not fully recovered.
Figures released by MasterCard Advisors' SpendingPulse, which tracks spending in all forms including cash, show consumers treated themselves to new clothes and shoes while they shopped for holiday gifts. The group reported that spending from Nov. 5 through Dec. 24 hit $584.3 billion, excluding autos. That's 5.5 percent more than a year earlier and the biggest increase in five years.
Further light will be shed on the consumers' retail appetite during the holiday season when retailers begin releasing results for revenue at stores open at least a year. Companies are set to report those results later on Wednesday and early Thursday.
Revenue at stores open at least a year is a key gauge of a retailer's health because it measures results at existing stores instead of newly opened ones.
Analyst Pamela Quintiliano of Oppenheimer says traffic is improving and sales are getting better, but an unemployment rate hovering near 10 percent is still a drag on consumers.
She also noted that shoppers were drawn to specialty retailers because of promotions. While American Eagle Outfitters Inc., Abercrombie & Fitch Co. and Zumiez Inc. stayed close to their planned promotions, Quintiliano said others like Aeropostale Inc. and Gap Inc. were more reactionary.
Shares of American Eagle fell 8 cents to $14.32 in morning trading, while Abercrombie & Fitch's stock dropped 88 cents to $55.34. Zumiez declined 15 cents to $25.30 and Aeropostale shed 8 cents to $23.99. Gap's stock slipped 51 cents, or 2.3 percent, to $21.45.
Quintiliano also worries that the disappearance of deep discounts will result in the average consumer not feeling the need to shop.
"We're concerned that a lack of new broad-based fashions, combined with an ongoing shift to buying closer to need and our belief that the replenishment cycle has largely been fulfilled will lead to a slow start to 2011," she wrote in a client note.
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