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The holiday season was a brutal one for U.S. retailers, especially department stores and companies that sell luxury products

The holiday season was a brutal one for U.S. retailers, especially department stores and companies that sell luxury products, and companies and investors alike didn’t see it coming.

The U.S. economy has been growing at a steady pace, and unemployment is low and consumer confidence is high. That seemed to set the stage for strong sales over the holidays, but companies including Macy’s, Nordstrom and Signet all said they struggled badly over the critical December shopping period.

The stock market itself may have been part of the problem: extreme volatility in December may have shaken up wealthy shoppers more than it hurt average consumers.

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