Holiday shopping tails off

U.S. store visits plummeted 21 percent and retail sales dropped 3.1 percent in the week through Saturday, signaling a lackluster finish for the most important selling season of the year.

Holiday purchases increased 2 percent from Nov. 1 to Dec. 22, said Bill Martin, co-founder of Chicago-based researcher ShopperTrak, which released the data. And ShopperTrak still expects sales to rise 2.4 percent for the whole holiday shopping season, the smallest gain since 2009.

Some other predictions are more optimistic. The National Retail Federation reiterated on Dec. 12 its prediction that sales will rise 3.9 percent in November and December, more than the 3.5 percent gain a year ago.

Incomes increased 0.2 percent in November after dropping 0.1 percent the prior month, the Commerce Department reported Monday. The Bloomberg survey median called for incomes to rise 0.5 percent.

The U.S. economy, which the Commerce Department on Dec. 20 said grew at a surprising 4.1 percent annualized rate in the third quarter, has yet to boost results at many publicly held retailers.