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2009 Holiday Spending Up

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Holiday shoppers spent a little more this season, according to data released today.

The Associated Press reports retailers managed to avoid a repeat of last year's disaster even amid tight credit and double-digit unemployment. It's also likely merchants' profits will be healthier because stores planned inventories to match consumer demand, and didn't need to resort to fire-sale clearances.

Retail sales rose 3.6 percent from November 1 through December 24, compared to a 2.3 percent drop during the same period in 2008, according to figures from MasterCard Advisors' SpendingPulse, a group which tracks forms of payment and sales.

Last year, the economy was in "critical condition," said Michael McNamara, the group's vice president. "This year, it's in stable condition."

Online sales, though they make up less than 10 percent of all retail sales, were a particular hot spot. They rose 15.5 percent, fueled by a big increase the weekend before Christmas.

Next year, it may not be such a rosy picture. Merchants are facing big hurdles to lure shoppers back in January amid lean inventories and what appear to be weak gift card sales.

Stores count on a post-Christmas boost because of the growing importance of January on the retail sales calendar. Last year, the week after Christmas accounted for 15 percent of overall holiday sales, according to ShopperTrak, a research firm.