Mesa resident Wes Holmes said he spent about 70 percent more during the last holiday season than he did the year before. He wasn’t alone. Sales showed a respectable increase in December, new figures show.
The National Retail Federation said Friday that sales rose 4.4 percent over last year, although that’s less than the 5 percent growth the trade group had projected. Another report by the U.S. Commerce Department said December sales of retail and food services increased .9 during the month, which Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez said was more than expected.
In a statement, he said Americans “shopped with confidence and vigor” last year and linked it to higher pay, falling gas prices, and steady job creation and economic growth.
Scott Krugman, a spokesman with the National Retail Federation, said the 4.4 percent growth his organization reported fell short of the 5 percent they had forecasted, but he downplayed the significance of the weaker numbers.
“If you look at the last 10 years, the average increase has been 4.6 percent, so this is just slightly below average,” Krugman said. “This is not a cataclysmic occurrence here. All it means is we saw some subdued growth in a weaker economic period, which, no, isn’t all so bad.”
Tracy Clark, associate director of the Bank One Economic Outlook Center, said he suspects local retailers fared better than their national counterparts.
“Obviously the warm weather isn’t an impact for us,” he said. “They say the warm weather (meant) they didn’t buy a lot of heavy coats. Well, we never do.”
He said the lack of advertising by companies after the Christmas holiday indicated to him that retailers were cautious about buying goods for the holiday season, which meant they didn’t have a lot of excess inventory to sell.
“Even though the gross sales probably didn’t hold up, their profit margins might have actually been better than they have been for a while,” he said.
Christine Romero, spokeswoman for Westcor, which operates all of the major malls in the Valley except Arizona Mills, said sales in all product categories were up at her company’s malls.
The department stores at Westcor centers were up 3.5 percent during the final week compared with the same period in 2006. They were also up 5.6 for the entire season. “That’s a nice growth,” she said.