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SpendingData sees mixed bag for retail sales in April

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New York City Consumers bought less clothing and footwear in April than they did in the same month last year, but opened their wallets for electronics, major appliances and status goods, purchase data released Wednesday show.

The month's rainy weather contributed to mixed results, including a sharp 15.6% increase in online sales, according to the latest numbers from MasterCard Advisors' SpendingPulse. It was the ninth-straight month that online sales rose, compared with a year earlier.

The figures, which include transactions in all forms including cash, signal that spending is recovering but remained sensitive in April to one-time factors.

Because an early Easter, such as this year's on April 4, can boost March's results and depress April's, analysts combine the two months when trying to gauge consumer behavior.

April figures benefited from relatively easy comparisons to April 2009, when consumers also cut their spending.

Consumers' confidence in the economy rose in April 2010, but the Conference Board business group's index remains below the level that's considered healthy. And unemployment remained high.

Here are SpendingPulse's figures comparing sales April 4 through May 1 with a year earlier, by product category.

  • Clothing: Sales fell 3.9% from April 2009, and sales that month were 8.2% below April 2008.
  • Footwear: Sales fell 1.7%.
  • Appliances: With increases since September 2009, this category was up 3% in April.
  • Electronics: Sales rose 9.7% from a year earlier, helped in part by product launches, including Apple's iPad tablet computer on April 3.

The data comes a day before many major retailers report same-store sales results for April. Analysts surveyed by Thomson Reuters predict a 1.6% for April. The estimate for March and April combined is 5.4%. That would be the eighth straight increase.