Wednesday, April 23, 2014 · 7:48 a.m.

Fiscal cliff uncertainty impacted holiday spending, report shows

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Almost 30 percent of consumers spent less than expected during the past holiday season. (Photo: Contributed)

Twenty-eight percent of American consumers spent less than expected during the most recent holiday season, according to a recent report from Bankrate.com.

Leaders with Bankrate also announced that its Financial Security Index increased 3 points to 98.6 in January, after the deal to avoid the fiscal cliff.

That’s the biggest increase in 13 months, but it’s still lower than what it was in October, when it was 99.2.

When the index is below 100, it indicates that Americans are not feeling as much financial security as they did in the previous year, according to Bankrate.

The index has been below 100 for 24 of 26 months since the index started in December 2010.

“These results illustrate that the fiscal cliff was hardly the only headwind impacting the U.S. economy,” Greg McBride, Bankrate.com’s senior financial analyst, said in a prepared statement. “Yes, the resolution brought some temporary relief, but the economy continues to plod along in first gear. It’s going to take sustained, substantive job growth in order for Americans to feel considerably better about their financial security.”

Sixteen percent of Americans spent more than expected, and people younger than age 30 were slightly more inclined to spend more, also according to the report.

Leaders with the National Retail Federation also released figures for the past holiday season.

Holiday retail sales were up 3 percent to $579.8 billion, according to the federation.

Leaders had projected that retail sales would be up 4.1 percent.

The federation’s President and CEO Matthew Shay echoed the idea that the fiscal cliff led to uncertainty and less spending.

“For over six months, we’ve been saying that the fiscal cliff and economic uncertainty could impact holiday sales,” he said. “As the number shows, these issues had a visible impact on consumer spending this holiday season. We can’t expect consumers to continue to carry the burden of growing our economy—Washington must put political differences aside and do what it takes to get our country growing again and Americans back to work.”

"Fiscal cliff" is a term being used to define the situation the American government was facing at the end of 2012 when an increase in taxes combined with spending cuts.

At the beginning of January, President Barack Obama signed a measure to avoid the fiscal cliff for the time being.

Early New Year's Day, members of Congress passed fiscal cliff legislation and put off the decision on what to do about the impending automatic spending cuts, which are scheduled to go into effect March 1 if Congress doesn't come to a different agreement.

House members voted Wednesday to extend the government's borrowing deadline until May 18, and the Senate is expected to follow that decision.  

This month, leaders with the U.S. Department of Commerce released December retail sales results, which showed that total retail and food services sales—which include categories, such as automobiles gasoline stations and restaurants—increased by .5 percent month-to-month and increased 4.7 percent year-over-year, according to the federation.

“While non-store retail sales increased a hearty 11 percent this December, total December sales could not make up for shortfalls in certain categories like electronics,” NRF Chief Economist Jack Kleinhenz said in a prepared statement. “Heading into 2013, consumers could continue to think twice about their discretionary purchases as they face decreases in their paychecks and other concerns with their household budgets.”

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