Low Clothing Sales Foreshadow End of the World

If you watched the news in the last 24 hours, you'd think women's clothing sales were the barometer for the economy. All three major networks reported a 6-percent decrease in women's apparel sales this holiday season, calling the figure "ominous," "worrisome" and "a big deal."

The only problem is that the corporation reporting the figures, Mastercard, didn't say it was that big of a deal. In fact Mastercard's SpendingPulse showed a "modest increase" in holiday sales overall, and "extraordinary growth" for eCommerce sales.

But for the MSM, good news is no news, so they zeroed in on one negative to suggest Christmas 2007 is a retail failure. And since Christmas is all about shopping, we might as well declare the whole season over before it started!

On the "CBS Evening News" Dec. 17, Anthony Mason reported "an ominous sign: Sales of women's clothing have dropped nearly 6 percent so far this holiday season." The next morning, "Good Morning America's" Bianna Golodryga declared a "Blue Christmas for Retailers" and the "Today" show's Carl Quintanilla reported the decline is "a big deal because women tend to do most of the holiday shopping."

The three reporters got their statistic from Mastercard, which released holiday season sales figures Dec. 17 through its SpendingPulse program. The actual news is that most segments of the sales industry are up over 2006 levels. Only women's apparel and "specialty retailers," which were down 1.1 percent, have declined.

Overall, special apparel was up 0.5 percent. Men's apparel was up 4.5 percent. Electronics were up 5.8 percent. Luxury goods were up 10.8 percent. And Mastercard declared "extraordinary growth" for eCommerce sales, up 29.8 percent over the first 20 days of the season.

Mastercard Vice President of Research and Analysis Michael McNamara said the figures weren't surprising. "Black Friday's sales came in so strong that the pace was clearly not sustainable. The sectors have settled into some clear winners as well as some under performers." Hardly the gloom and doom we're seeing on the networks.

And just in case you started thinking higher sales were a good thing, Quintanilla points to the National Retail Federation's prediction of a 4 percent increase over 2006 sales. "That may sound pretty good but it's the slowest level in four years," he said.