September Retail Sales Improve, Remain Weak

NEW YORK (AP) -- U.S. retail sales figures from a key data service show signs of a rebound in September from last year's deep plunge.

SpendingPulse, a service of MasterCard Advisors, reports that several merchandising categories, including luxury and electronics, posted gains in September compared with a year earlier. SpendingPulse estimates monthly U.S. sales across all payment forms including cash and checks.

"It's stable, but it's stable at 2005 levels," said Michael McNamara, vice president at SpendingPulse. "We're in recovery mode, but it's going to take a while."

Rising 3.4 percent to $891 million, luxury sales, excluding jewelry, remained slightly below September 2005, when they hit $894 million, McNamara said. They fell 9.4 percent last September.

Since last fall, luxury sales have fared worse than clothing, but last month overall U.S. clothing sales fell 2.9 percent compared with a year earlier. They fell 5.7 percent last September.

Jewelry sales rose 1.2 percent from September 2008, when they fell 5.8 percent. And electronics and appliances, which fell 5.9 percent last September, rose 5 percent this September.

The numbers from SpendingPulse come ahead of the release Thursday by major retailers such as Target Corp. and Macy's Inc. of their September sales at stores open at least a year, considered a key barometer of a merchant's health.

Michael P. Niemira, chief economist at the International Council of Shopping Centers, predicts a 2 percent drop.

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