By PAUL WISEMAN and ANNE D’INNOCENZIO
AP Business Writers
Holiday sales rose at the fastest pace in 17 years, even as shoppers grappled with higher prices, product shortages and a raging new COVID-19 variant in the last few weeks of the season, according to one spending measure. Mastercard SpendingPulse, which tracks all kinds of payments including cash and debit cards, reported Sunday that holiday sales had risen 8.5% from a year earlier. MasterCard SpendingPulse had expected an 8.8% increase. The results covered Nov. 1 through Dec. 24. They were fueled by purchases of clothing and jewelry. Holiday sales were up 10.7% compared with the pre-pandemic 2019 holiday period.