Women's apparel, dining drive U.S. holiday sales: MasterCard

Fri Dec 26, 2014 5:59pm EST
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By Nathan Layne

(Reuters) - U.S. retail sales rose 5.5 percent from the day after Thanksgiving through Christmas Eve as solid demand for women's apparel, jewelry and casual dining offset surprisingly sluggish sales of electronics, MasterCard said in its holiday spending report.

The report, which tracks spending by combining sales activity in MasterCard's payments network with estimates of cash and other payment forms, offers an early look into how the holiday season shaped up. Official government data and results from retailers will not be available until next month.

The results of the MasterCard Advisors SpendingPulse report are the latest sign that a stronger economy boosted spending during the holiday season. An improving jobs market, with unemployment at a six-year low, and falling gasoline prices are among the factors helping to spur spending.

The National Retail Federation, the industry's main trade body, is forecasting that retail sales will increase 4.1 percent during November and December, the biggest jump since 2011.

The MasterCard report highlighted how uneven the gains are, with some surprising winners and losers.

Casual dining and lodging were among the strongest categories, posting double-digit and nearly double-digit year-on-year sales growth, respectively, from "Black Friday," the day after Thanksgiving, through Dec. 24.

The results reflected a growing consumer preference for "experience" over goods, Sarah Quinlan, a senior vice president at MasterCard, said. The "economy is very strong but they are spending in a different way," she said in an interview.

Contrary to some experts who predicted a strong showing for electronics, the category was among the weakest, with sales "basically flat" from Black Friday to Dec. 24 and in negative territory when looking at sales starting on Nov. 1, according to the report.   Continued...

Shoppers enter Macy's to kick off Black Friday sales in New York November 27, 2014. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly