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October Sales Better, But Still Not Great

U.S. retail sales figures from a key data service show signs of a rebound in October from last year's plunge.

SpendingPulse, a service of MasterCard Advisors, reports that categories including jewelry and apparel posted gains in October compared with a year earlier. SpendingPulse estimates sales in all payment forms including cash and checks.

Michael McNamara, vice president at SpendingPulse, said the sales look better mainly because they are being compared with abysmal spending a year earlier as the financial meltdown ballooned.

He noted that discounting, which depresses total sales figures, wasn't as deep this October as last, and he said more people are coming out to shop in recent weeks than earlier this fall.

But October's sales were lower than two years earlier in many categories, he said, and only a tad higher than October 2005. For instance:

• Luxury sales, excluding jewelry, rose 6.5 percent in October, compared with a 17.9 percent drop a year ago, but they were 12.6 percent lower than October 2007.

• Jewelry sales rose 7.2 percent in October, compared with a 14.3 percent drop a year earlier but are 8 percent below two years ago.

• Clothing sales rose 3.4 percent, compared with an 8.3 percent drop a year ago, but they were 5.2 percent lower than two years ago.

The numbers from SpendingPulse come ahead of the release Thursday by major retailers such as Target Corp. and Macy's Inc. of their October sales at stores open at least a year, considered a key barometer of a merchant's health.

Michael P. Niemira, chief economist at the International Council of Shopping Centers, which tallies Thursday's data, predicts that it will show October sales were anywhere from flat to 1 percent higher than in October 2008.