Oct 7, 2008
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Sept consumer sales drop sharply for MasterCard

Oct 7, 2008

By Sarah Coffey

NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. shoppers worried by shrinking bank and retirement accounts tamped down spending across the board in September as the country's financial crisis worsened, MasterCard Advisors said in a report on Tuesday October 7th.

Not one spending category posted positive gains over last year, according to the report by SpendingPulse, the retail data service of MasterCard Advisors.

Overall September apparel sales fell 5.5 percent from a year ago, with women's apparel down 9.1 percent. Furniture sales sank 13.3 percent, the worst decline since 2003, while electronics and appliance sales tumbled 13.8 percent.

"The turmoil on Wall Street had an immediate impact on consumer confidence," said Kamalesh Rao, director of economic research for SpendingPulse. "Uncertainty around the financial markets naturally forces people to scale back their own spending."

But consumers wary of Wall Street woes taking a bite out of their wealth could also be curtailing purchases until holiday promotions heat up, he said.

"People will save in the months leading up to the holiday season. So this may be some of that pullback," Rao said.

September sales, which took place during the depth of the U.S. financial crisis, are an indicator of how consumers pressured by higher gas and food prices, falling home values and tight credit conditions will spend during the upcoming holiday season, expected to be the slowest in 17 years.

Sales of men's apparel fell 2.4 percent, while overall footwear sales were down 1.4 percent. Specialty apparel sales fell 5.5 percent. Overall specialty retail, which includes apparel and department stores, fell 7.7 percent.

Based on a three-month moving average of sales, specialty apparel fell 2.6 percent, women's apparel fell 4.4 percent and men's apparel and footwear fell 2.0 percent and 1.0 percent, respectively.

A $700 billion U.S. government bailout package approved last week failed to quiet investors' concerns about the health of the financial system and the broader economy. A series of bank rescues in Europe over the weekend added to concerns that the problems were quickly spreading.

SpendingPulse results give an early look at the strength of September same-store sales, which retailers such as Target Corp, Wal-Mart Stores Inc, J.C. Penney Co Inc and Kohl's Corp will report this week.

In other categories measured by SpendingPulse, spending on hotels fell 4.9 percent in the month, as higher fuel prices crimped travel plans and dampened airline ticket sales. E-commerce sales were down 8.4 percent.

Luxury spending, including high-end department stores, leather goods and high-end restaurants, fell 4.8 percent, as the rising U.S. dollar curbed spending by foreign tourists.

SpendingPulse data is derived from aggregate sales in the MasterCard U.S. payment network, coupled with estimates on all other payments including cash and checks.

(Editing by Phil Berlowitz)

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