U.S. merchants always expect a big letdown after the big Christmas rush. But last week they reported that the New Year's business had started off much bigger than they had dared expect. In some places (e.g., Detroit, Houston), stores reported sales running 15% to 23% higher than a year ago; for the U.S. as a whole, retail dollar volume was up 5%.

In actual goods sold, the rise was still bigger, for prices had been slashed right & left to clean out inventories for spring merchandise. For the first time in years, January white sales had the look of genuine...

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