True to the split-personality American economy -- booming stock markets coupled with headline-grabbing winter layoffs -- specialty stores such as the Gap and discount giants like Wal-Mart were the big winners, while mid-range stores like Sears and J.C. Penney struggled to find an audience. A strong surge in online shopping that beat most expectations helped deliver the rosy numbers. For those happy few who got Amazon.com stock for Christmas last year, big-ticket items such as jewelry and cars were the only way to go. But most consumers are stubbornly stuck in the bargain-hunting mode. And since the overall U.S. economy still rests on consumers' backs -- and little else -- those post-Christmas fire sales may have to last until springtime to keep the economy cooking.
NEW YORK: Maybe Americans were transfixed by impeachment after all. After a slow-starting December hobbled by unusually warm temperatures threw a scare into retailers everywhere, a surge of last-minute shoppers, online buyers and day-after-Christmas bargain hunters have pushed retail sales projections back into the black. Early predictions for the holiday season now hold that sales in big-chain stores that have been open at least one year will rise by as much as 4 percent to 5 percent for the second year in a row.