By Duane D. Stanford
Jan. 9 (Bloomberg) -- Holiday sales in the U.S. climbed 4.5 percent, ahead of ShopperTrak RCT Corp.'s forecast, as retailers lured customers with discounts on clothing and electronics.
The gain exceeded the projection of a 3.6 percent increase, ShopperTrak said in a statement today. Customer visits dropped 2.7 percent during November and December from a year earlier, the firm said.
``This holiday traffic slide mirrors the trend seen throughout 2007 of consumers visiting retail locations less but spending more,'' the Chicago-based research firm said.
Sales were helped by a surge in spending the final weekend before the Christmas holiday, ShopperTrak said. Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Macy's Inc. and Kohl's Corp. offered last-minute promotions to attract cash-strapped shoppers in the face of the worst housing slump in 27 years and gasoline costs that exceeded $3 a gallon.
Other analysts and research firms have projected holiday sales may be the worst in at least five years. The National Retail Federation has forecast a 4 percent rise, the smallest since 2002.
The International Council of Shopping Centers said yesterday that sales at stores open at least a year climbed ``a little under'' its 2.5 percent forecast during the final two months of 2007.
Macy's, the second-largest department store chain, rose 85 cents, or 3.9 percent, to $22.67 at 4 p.m. in New York Stock Exchange composite trading. Wal-Mart increased 93 cents, or 2 percent, to $46.90. The Standard & Poor's Retailing Index rose less than 1 percent and has declined 8.5 percent this year.
Many retailers report December sales results tomorrow.
Lauri Brunner, a retail analyst at Thrivent Investment Management in Minneapolis, said ShopperTrak's findings ``don't seem to foot'' with numbers she looks at. Target Corp. said last month that same-store sales for December may decline.
``Look at Wal-Mart and Target, two of the largest retailers out there, and look what they're going to do in December,'' said Brunner. Thrivent oversees $70.6 billion in assets.
Wal-Mart said Dec. 6 that same-store sales would rise between 1 percent to 3 percent during the month.
ShopperTrak measures foot traffic in shopping centers and malls using more than 50,000 video devices and derives its estimate for a total sales increase in part from past U.S. Commerce Department sales data.
The ICSC bases its forecast on surveys of as many as 60 retail chains and looks at same-store sales.
Same-store sales results, which are smaller than overall revenue, are considered a key measure of a retailer's performance because they exclude locations that have recently opened or closed.
Specialty-apparel sales, which exclude most discounters and department stores, slowed in December from a year earlier after a decline in consumer purchases of women's clothing, MasterCard Advisors' SpendingPulse said.
Total sales of women's apparel fell 3.8 percent last month, Michael McNamara, vice president of research and analysis at MasterCard Advisors, said in an interview today.
``The economic environment is not as robust as it was a year ago,'' McNamara said.
Men's clothing sales climbed 1.6 percent in December and shoes rose 5.9 percent, according to MasterCard Advisors. Internet sales surged 32 percent.