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Later Easter benefits April sales, data shows

NEW YORK (AP) — A late Easter drove more spending on clothes this April than last, but gas prices and the weak housing market continued to crimp Americans’ spending on electronics and appliances, according to data out Wednesday from MasterCard Inc.

Figures from MasterCard Advisors’ SpendingPulse show clothing sales rose more than 10 percent from April 2010, with particular strength in men’s clothing, which was up over 12 percent. Sales of women’s apparel rose over 7 percent. SpendingPulse data includes all forms of payment including cash.

“All apparel sectors were up from March, primarily because of Easter,” said Michael McNamara, vice president of research and analysis for MasterCard Advisors SpendingPulse.

McNamara said it’s more accurate to view retail sales in March and April combined. By that measure, clothing sales rose 7 percent from the same period a year ago. Easter fell on April 24, as opposed to April 4 last year, so many shoppers delayed their holiday-related spending from March to April.

Overall, “discretionary dollars for the most part seem to be holding up,” McNamara said. “But as you move down the price spectrum, you see more pressure because of gas prices.”

Gas cost nearly $4 a gallon across most of the country in April.

Electronics and appliance didn’t perform as well as clothes. April sales in those categories, which have been pressured by the weak housing market, fell almost 2 percent. Luxury remained a bright spot, up nearly 10 percent, a sign that high-end spending is continuing to recover faster than the rest of the economy.

Online sales — one category that benefits from higher gas prices — rose just over 19 percent, the sixth straight month of double-digit improvement.

Separately, selected major retailers plan to report Thursday on April revenue at their stores open at least a year. Analysts surveyed by Thomson Reuters expect the merchants collectively to report an 8.4 percent increase.

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