Blizzard chills end of U.S. holiday shopping season

Mon Dec 27, 2010 3:48pm EST
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By Phil Wahba

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A major snowstorm on the U.S. East Coast kept many shoppers home just after Christmas, casting a pall on the final act of the holiday sales season.

The weekend's blizzard conditions, which shut down airports and halted traffic, also weighed on U.S. store chains that sought an extra boost from post-holiday purchases.

Analysts said the storm broke the momentum of improved holiday sales and could herald an earlier return to consumer frugality in 2011.

"But for the weather, the momentum would have continued right through to this week," said Joel Bines, managing director of AlixPartners' global retail practice.

The Standard & Poor's Retail Index slipped 0.2 percent on Monday, while the broader S&P 500 was up 0.1 percent. Earlier in December, retail shares hit a 3-1/2-year high and are still trading near those levels. The index has risen about 24 percent this year.

The week after Christmas offers U.S. retailers a last opportunity to capture holiday spending and typically account for about 15 percent of total sales for the season, according to the National Retail Federation. Store chains offer additional discounts to lure extra purchases from shoppers when they come to return gift items or redeem gift cards.

Natalia Barry, who had the day off from her advertising job, was shopping at Macy's in Manhattan.

"I have to find other things for New Year's and stuff that might be better priced than it would be ... any other day," she said.   Continued...

<p>A truck stuck in a snow bank is shoveled out as blizzard-like conditions due to high winds continue in Hoboken, New Jersey, December 27, 2010. REUTERS/Gary Hershorn</p>