Bull market in bears brings Christmas cheer

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(First Edition)

The Christmas Teddy index has gone through the roof. With 20 days to go, Harrods has sold out of its stock of 22,000 teddy bears - more than twice as many as at the same time last year.

The booming trade in cuddly bears reflects a renewed sense of optimism on Britain's high streets despite a bad autumn and indifferent Budget.

Harrods' sales of 19.95 pounds bears boomed in the 1980s: in 1987, stocks were sold out weeks before Christmas. By 1991, as the recession bit, the store had sold only 6,700 at this stage of the Christmas season. In 1992 the false dawn of economic recovery began to shine and the number rose to 9,800. The pattern of increased shopping confidence reflected by the boom in bears was repeated around the country at the weekend.

The number of shoppers was substantially higher, said John Bell of the MetroCentre near Gateshead. This weekend 234,000 people visited the centre compared to 180,000 this time last year, and Mr Bell said they were spending more.

In Edinburgh, Andrew Douglas Miller, merchandise director at the department store Jenners, said: ``Although there is some fear of interest rate rises, shoppers are generally budgeting more for their Christmas spend this year.''