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The Reformed Broker

Shocker: Americans found a way to shop this year

Never underestimate the American consumer.

By Joshua M. BrownGuest blogger / December 29, 2010

Shoppers fight through the blizzard to hit the post-Christmas sales in New York's Union Square, Dec. 26. The storm that swept through the Northeast on Sunday and Monday delayed $1 billion in retail spending, according to research firm ShopperTrak, but didn't derail a holiday shopping season that has reached pre-recession levels.

Mary Altaffer / AP

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Pity the ridiculously out-of-touch retail bears who had so easily forgotten that America's true National Pastime is not baseball, football or Facebook. The thing that we will beg, borrow or steal to do, regardless of unemployment, is buy stuff.

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Big stuff, little stuff, expensive stuff, cheap stuff, Apple stuff, Whole Foods stuff, dollar store stuff. Anything, just make it and we'll find a way to buy it - by phone, in-store or on the web. George Carlin told you about our obsession with stuff decades ago. And George was a lot of things, but he was never wrong in his observations of the culture.

Today's big story comes to us from the New York Times. Read it and weep, New Normalers:

After a 6 percent free fall in 2008 and a 4 percent uptick last year, retail spending rose 5.5 percent in the 50 days before Christmas, exceeding even the more optimistic forecasts, according to MasterCard Advisors SpendingPulse, which tracks retail spending.

The rise was seen in just about every retail category. Apparel led the way, with an increase of 11.2 percent. Jewelry was up 8.4 percent, and luxury goods like handbags and expensive department-store clothes increased 6.7 percent. There was even a slight increase in purchases of home furniture, which had four consecutive years of declining sales. The figures include in-store and online sales, and exclude autos.

I won't say that this will continue indefinitely, or that some of this isn't just people skipping the mortgage one month to cover Christmas. But the fact that we're hitting peak 2007 levels of consumption is undeniable. Don't you ever in your life sleep on the US consumer again.

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