Business

Behind the biggest holiday sales increase in years

Traders on Wall Street were full of doom and gloom this holiday season. Shoppers on Main Street, meanwhile, were busy buying stuff.

Retailers delivered their biggest holiday sales increases in six years, as shoppers shrugged off the stock market’s swoon and instead shelled out for everything from cashmere sweaters to kitchen sinks.

Boosted by fatter paychecks, lower tax bills and a recent drop in gasoline prices, consumers sent holiday retail sales up 5.1 percent to more than $850 billion between Nov. 1 and Dec. 24, according to Mastercard SpendingPulse.

Demand was especially strong for winter apparel and home goods, according to the survey, whose Wednesday release boosted shares of chains like Macy’s, Nordstrom, Walmart and Home Depot. Online sales — led by Amazon — were up a whopping 19 percent.

Amazon shares spiked 9.5 percent, to $1,470.90, after the online behemoth said that tens of millions of people signed up for its Prime service to take advantage of its delivery promotions.

“Clearly we are seeing a classic relief rally after some of the early feedback post- Christmas appeared to be decent,” Gordon Haskett analyst Chuck Grom told The Post.

Indeed, retail analysts had been expecting solid numbers this season, even as the stocks of major chains got punished in recent weeks by the broader market rout.

“The numbers are going to get even better because most people aren’t going back to work or to school for another two weeks,” retail consultant Jan Kniffen told The Post.

Demand for outerwear, boots and all things denim contributed to a 7.9 percent increase in apparel sales, the highest spike since 2010, according to Mastercard.

“It’s wasn’t just a pop during the holidays either,” added Steve Sadove, a Mastercard adviser and former chief executive of Saks Fifth Avenue.

Shoppers have been bulking up their wardrobes since September, when apparel sales rose as much as 9 percent versus zero growth last year, Sadove said.

Shares of American Eagle Outfitters, which does a brisk jeans business, rose 10.7 percent, to $19.37, on Wednesday while shares of Urban Outfitters, owner of Free People, Anthropologie and its namesake, were up 7.3 percent, to $34.06.

Amazon, which reported record-breaking holiday sales, said that among its most popular fashion brands this year was 120-year-old Carhartt, which specializes in work jeans and apparel. The online retailer sold more than 1 million Carhartt items.

Home-improvement sales were up 9 percent, according to Mastercard. Shares of upscale home goods retailer Restoration Hardware were up 9.5 percent, to $118.75, on Wednesday.

Department store shares also were lifted by the tide, despite anemic 1.3 percent sales growth during the holidays, according to Mastercard.

Sales of electronics and appliances, however, were down 0.9 percent as consumers hold onto what they have longer, according to retail experts.

Underlying consumers’ confidence is near-full employment and rising wages, up more than 3 percent. And despite the splurges, shoppers have steered clear of credit card debt.

“Consumers are spending out of their current household income, which is much healthier,” said Craig Johnson, president of Customer Growth Partners.

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