U.S. holiday spending rose at fastest pace in 17 years, despite Delta and Omicron

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"The latest COVID-19 variant is upending holiday plans for tens of thousands of travelers — but it didn't do much damage to holiday shopping," The Associated Press reports.

U.S. holiday sales rose 8.5 percent over 2020, the biggest gain in 17 years, Mastercard SpendingPulse reported Sunday. Consumers also spent 10.7 percent more in the holiday season compared with the same Nov. 1 to Dec. 24 period in 2019, before the pandemic. Mastercard, whose survey tracks spending on all kinds of goods and services (though not automobiles), had forecast an 8.8 percent jump for holiday buying back in September, before the Delta coronavirus wave peaked and the Omicron variant roared in.

Online purchases continued their upward trajectory, rising 11 percent over 2020 and 61 percent versus 2019, Mastercard said, but sales at bricks-and-mortar stores also rose 8.1 percent versus 2020. "The consumer is extremely healthy and has held up really well," said Stephen Sadove, a senior adviser to Mastercard and the former CEO of Saks. "No longer are people just staying at home in sweatpants," he added. "They are going back to the malls."

Consumer spending rose significantly on clothing (47 percent rise over 2020), jewelry (32 percent), and electronics (16 percent), Mastercard's report found. Concerns about supply chain disruptions and delivery delays prompted many Americans to start their Christmas shopping in October, The Wall Street Journal reports, muting the effects of COVID-19's latest resurgence.

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