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U.S. holiday sales strongest in six years

U.S. shoppers spent more than $850 billion from Thanksgiving through Christmas -- adding up to the strongest showing in six years, preliminary figures showed Wednesday.

Mastercard SpendingPulse said Wednesday the amount is up 5.1 percent from the same period last year. Online shopping alone was up 19.1 percent compared to the previous year. The report, which excludes vehicle sales, examined spending between Nov. 1 and Dec. 24.

"From shopping aisles to online carts, consumer confidence translated into holiday cheer for retail," Steve Sadove, senior adviser for Mastercard, said in a statement. "By combining the right inventory with the right mix of online versus in-store, many retailers were able to give consumers what they wanted via the right shopping channels."

Mastercard bases its report on aggregate sales activity in its payments network and survey-based estimates for other payment methods like cash and checks.

Many online shoppers didn't wait until Cyber Monday to fill their carts at the end of November, figures show. Online sales increased 26.4 percent between the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and Black Friday, Adobe Analytics said.

The early Thanksgiving holiday spread out the Christmas shopping season but also made it more difficult for retailers to sustain the momentum. Shopping hit a lull in early December before picking up closer to Christmas, analysts said.

A chilly Black Friday did impact spending on the East Coast, as did wet weather on Dec. 15-16 on both the East and West coasts. Another storm hit Dec. 21 on the East Coast that may have impacted shopping in the final days.

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