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By Cotten Timberlake
WASHINGTON - Holiday shoppers descended on U.S. malls this weekend in a last-minute dash to buy gifts amid concerns about the nation’s economy and the impasse in Washington over taxes and spending.
Shopping yesterday for clothes and Lego toys for her 2- and 4-year-old children at a mall in Burlington, Massachusetts, Marjorie Decker, 40, said her family is spending less compared with last year.
“It’s an unpredictable economy,” said Decker, who will be sworn in next month as a member of the state legislature. “We’re more mindful of what they do and don’t need.”
Americans have become warier as Washington approaches the end of the year without an agreement to forestall higher taxes and automatic spending cuts -- the so-called fiscal cliff. Last month, retailers from Macy’s Inc. to Target Corp. posted same- store sales that trailed analysts’ estimates.
Consumer confidence fell in December to a five-month low, according to a Dec. 21 report. The Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan consumer sentiment index slid to 72.9, the weakest since July, from 82.7 in November.
In another sign that consumers are pulling back, U.S. online sales increased 8.4 percent this holiday season, compared with last year’s almost 16 percent gain, MasterCard Advisors SpendingPulse said.
Sales grew to $48 billion from Oct. 28 through Dec. 22, the Purchase, New York-based research firm said yesterday. The figures come from the 60,000 Web retailers it tracks.
Besides the fiscal concerns, widespread power outages from Sandy, the hurricane that devastated the East Coast in October, also hurt holiday shopping on the Internet, said Michael McNamara, a vice president at SpendingPulse.
“When you look at the fiscal-cliff media coverage as well as the decline in consumer confidence and the slowdown in e- commerce, all those basically happened at the same time,” McNamara said in a telephone interview.
In a separate report, Comscore said yesterday that e- commerce sales jumped 16 percent to $38.7 billion between Nov. 1 and Dec. 21. The Reston, Virginia-based digital research firm reported a 15 percent gain last year. It excludes auctions and large corporate purchases.
The Standard & Poor’s 500 Retailing Index was little changed at 653.25 at 9:36 a.m., compared with a 0.3 percent decline for the broader S&P 500. The 33-company retail index jumped 25 percent this year through Dec. 21.