Holiday retail sales gave the National Association of Credit Management's (NACM) Credit Managers' Index (CMI) a boost to a high not seen since May, but it remained below year-ago levels as many companies, including some in the mortgage space, are still in distress.

The December CMI rose to 54.4 from 53.5 the previous month, according to the NACM. A year ago, the CMI was at 55.8.

Dollar collections rose to 61.4 from 56.9 and favorable factors jumped to 60.5 from 58.8. The latter would have been greater if there had not been a decline in new credit applications. This tends to be somewhat more common at the end of the retail season, according to the NACM.

The index reading for the am`ount of credit extended, however, rose to 64.7 from 62.4.
Unfavorable factor index numbers inched up to 50.4 from 50.1.

NACM economist Chris Kuehl said in the report that generally many companies remain in distress, and while the slight improvement in the unfavorable factor index marks a better trend than that seen months ago, many businesses are still struggling with debt and cashflow.

He noted that as Sears/Kmart's recent plan for store closures suggests, while retail did relatively well in the past year the gains were not universal. There could be other similar financial concerns at other companies, Kuehl said.

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