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Holiday sales rocky in stretch-run

Women's apparel and luxury goods off 5.7% and 3.7%, study shows. One hot sector is electronics, which rose 5.8%.

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CNNMoney (New York) -- Holiday sales, entering the final make-or-break stretch before Christmas, have cratered in some crucial sectors, according to a survey released Monday.

Sales of women's apparel were off 5.7% and sales of luxury goods declined 3.7 percent compared to last year. The SpendingPulse survey, conducted by MasterCard Advisors, tracked store and online sales in the 20 days starting with Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving regarded as the traditional start of the shopping season.

But the survey turned up a gain in the sale of electronics goods, which increased 5.8 percent percent. In addition, past shopping patterns indicate that sales will tick up in the next week.

"The start and end of the season are typically the strongest, so we are likely to see a pick up in sales in the coming days," said Kamalesh Rao, director of economic research at MasterCard Advisors, a unit of MasterCard (MA). "In fact, it looks like it's not going to be a bad season. We certainly won't see a remarkable slowdown."

Scott Krugman, a spokesman for the National Retail Federation, the industry's largest trade group, agreed.

"It is not all sunshine and roses, but retailers are having a respectable season," Krugman said. November and December typically account for up to 50 percent of retailers' annual profits and sales.

The SpendingPulse survey of mid-holiday season sales is derived from an extrapolation of U.S. transaction data from MasterCard and competitor networks, as well as estimates of other payments methods, such as cash and checks.

Rao noted the strong performance of e-commerce sales - up 29.8 percent with average prices climbing 10 percent from last year. He cited some positive results. For example, while women's clothing sales were down, overall specialty apparel sales are up 0.5%.

While luxury goods declined, sales of one major component of the category - jewelry - typically occur in the last two weeks of the season, according to MasterCard Advisors. With jewelry sales removed from the calculations, luxury good sales are actually up by 10.8 percent.

With the final stretch in sight, some analysts warn that it is still too early to tell if the holiday season will turn in a solid performance. As shoppers feel the pain of higher gasoline prices, and some sink deeper into debt, this season is being closely watched. Krugman doesn't expect sales to beat last year's numbers. But so far consumers are showing a strong ability to spend, he said. To top of page

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