Men splurging on clothing signal firming U.S. growth

Thu Feb 9, 2012 2:59pm EST
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By Lucia Mutikani

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - After years of skimping on clothing American men are hitting the shopping malls in droves, a sure sign the economy is finally strengthening.

Sales of men's apparel are forecast to increase 8.26 percent in the first quarter, according to IBM Global Business Services. Men spent an estimated $8.4 billion on clothing last year.

That would be up 8.21 percent from 2010 and the largest increase in 20 years.

The estimates are based on data from the Census Bureau, which will publish detailed December apparel sales numbers later this month, and these figures do not include internet sales.

"What is happening here is that men are going back to work. It was harder for a man to get a job than it was for a woman," Mike Haydock, head of retail analytics at IBM told Reuters.

The economy has enjoyed five months of strong employment growth, creating 243,000 new jobs last month. Economic growth gathered pace in the final three months of 2011 and data so far suggest that the momentum carried into early this year.

Men were hardest hit by the recession, which decimated employment in manufacturing and construction. While most of the jobs lost during the 2007-09 downturn will never come back, men are slowly getting back on their feet.

In January, the unemployment rate for men 20 years and over declined to 7.7 percent from 8 percent, closing the gap with women in the same age group. The jobless rate for women in that category fell to 7.7 percent from 7.9 percent in December.   Continued...

<p>A customer shops during the grand opening of Japanese-based clothing store Uniqlo's Fifth Avenue location in New York October 14, 2011. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton</p>