Business & Finance: Wrap It Up

In a Chicago department store, a couple found a tricycle for their son's Christmas. But they balked at the price: $47.50. While they discussed the matter, a shabbily-dressed man pulled out a roll of bills, bought the tricycle, commenting loudly: "You can't take it with you, brother."

Most Americans seemed to agree with the loud man. In stores from coast to coast, they bought anything that was for sale, in the last splurge of Christmas buying, boosted retail sales to the highest ever.

The Detroit branch of Saks Fifth Avenue could not get enough $5,000 mink coats to satisfy the demand. Other big...