Friday January 4, 2013

NEW YORK (AP) -- A last-minute surge in spending seems to have saved the holiday shopping season.

Major retailers including Costco, Gap and Nordstrom on Thursday reported better-than-expected revenue in December. That comes as a relief for stores, which can make up to 40 percent of their annual revenue in the last two months of the year.

Americans spent cautiously early in the season because of the damage after Superstorm Sandy. Then they held back because of the possibility of the U.S. economy falling off the "fiscal cliff," which would’ve triggered massive budget cuts and tax increases that would amount to less money in their pockets. But shoppers spent more freely in the final shopping days of the year.

Twenty retailers reported that revenue at stores open at least a year -- an indicator of a store’s health -- rose an average of 4.5 percent in December compared with the same month a year ago, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers. That’s on the high end of the expected range of 4 percent to 4.5 percent. Only a small group of stores that represent about 13 percent of the $2.4 trillion U.S. retail industry report monthly revenue, but the data offers a snapshot of consumer spending.

"I wouldn’t be doing cartwheels that it was a particularly great or strong holiday season, but it could have been worse given the headwinds," said Ken Perkins, president of RetailMetrics, a research firm. "The government and Mother Nature were not as cooperative as retailers would have liked. But it was definitely not as bad as feared."