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2010 US Retail Sales Could Top $450 Billion

Holiday shoppers in stores

Holiday shoppers in stores

A winter snowstorm in parts of the United States appears to have put a damper on after-Christmas shopping, but preliminary reports suggest retailers are enjoying the best holiday season in years.

Blizzard warnings, icy driving conditions and forecasts of as much as 50 centimeters of snow along the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic coasts - kept some people away from shopping malls over the weekend.

"If there wasn't a blizzard today, I'd be shopping," says one woman.

But even with the late year snowstorms, the National Retail Federation says the 2010 holiday season is shaping up to be one of the best.

Early numbers show U.S. consumers on track to spend over $450 billion by January 1.

That's three percent more than last year - the best increase since 2007.

Economist Kit Yarrow believes those estimates are on the low side.

"What they are doing is spending more like five percent more and that's in stores," Yarrow said. "Online, its more like 17 or 18 percent, so it's been a stronger holiday season than really anybody predicted."

Even casual shoppers say they probably spent more than they wanted to this year.

"I realize I did spend a little more," a woman said. "It seems like there's been more parties, more spending, more presents."

Retail analyst Lori Wachs says that's a sure sign the U.S. economy is starting to pick up.

"The consumer felt confident enough to step up their spending this holiday season," she said.

Even those with concerns about unemployment found themselves in a spending mood. Some shoppers say the bargains were simply too good to pass up.

Consumer spending is the biggest driver of the U.S. economy. And with holiday sales accounting for as much as 40 percent of revenue for some retailers, Kit Yarrow says strong sales in 2010 could mean a stronger recovery next year.

"When consumers are spending money,there's more jobs," said economist Kit Yarrow. "When unemployment numbers improve, people feel more confident. It's really a snowball so it's good for the economy, I think, to see people spending money."

Despite a good year for retailers, the snowstorms have been less kind to the nation's transportation sector.

Rail service along some of the busiest Northeast routes were suspended Sunday. And more than 1,400 flights have been cancelled in the New York City area, leaving thousands of passengers stranded.