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Preliminary reports of consumer activity in the weeks leading up to the Christmas long weekend suggest a marked improvement in retail sales as compared to last year’s relatively lackluster gains. According to the latest report from MasterCard SpendingPulse, November and December retail sales through December 24 were 5.5% higher than a year earlier. Retail sales were up 4.1% last year, but that result followed belt-tightening and a drop in activity in 2008. As part of a long-term structural shift, online retailers registered the largest gains this year; but bricks and mortar retailers measured significant gains, as well.

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