Wednesday, 26 December 2007

How good were US holiday retail sales?

So after all the fanfare surrounding last week's supposedly strong November Retail sales and consumer spending numbers, how good were US holiday retail sales really? .From

MasterCard says holiday retail spending up 3.6% vs year ago

Holiday retail spending rose 3.6% from a year earlier, led by luxury goods and electronic-commerce purchases, MasterCard Advisors LLC said on Wednesday...

...Sales "came in just above the lower end of the range we were expecting, maintaining the slower, modest growth we've been seeing throughout the year," said Michael McNamara, vice president of research and analysis for MasterCard Advisors, in a statement. Apparel lagged and electronics sales rose "a very moderate 2.7%," the firm said. Gasoline prices were 30% to 35% higher than they were a year earlier, while the e-commerce segment may have been boosted by inclement weather, the firm said.

At the lower end of expectations but 3.6% doesn't sound too bad. Or is it? Barry Ritholtz of the BIG PICTURE is saying that Real Holiday Spending Was Negative in 2007:

Excluding just the gas purchases, holiday sales rose a lackluster 2.4%. If we back out restaurants (and their price increases), then I ballpark sales at approximately 2% -- or a bit below the core rate of inflation. In other words, Real Sales may have reflected an actual loss over last year. This was despite the longer holiday shopping season.

Now the chatter has turned to how much shoppers will spend in the final week of the year as they cash in their gift cards and take advantage of huge post Christmas discounts. The final week of the year typically accounts for around 15 - 18% of total holiday sales.

At best you could say sales results look mixed with the likes of Costco and Best Buy doing well whilst the 2nd largest US retailer Target, has warned that they may post negative same store sales growth. At worst you would say they are lacklustre and a warning of things to come.

As noted before the US consumer is a resilient beast but the headwinds of falling home prices and higher fuel prices are starting to take a toll. This is showing up more recently in surging credit card delinquencies as consumers turn to plastic now that the home equity ATM has been shut off.

Consumer confidence has fallen to levels usually seen just before recessions and employment looks vulnerable. Next Friday's ever unreliable and subject to huge revisions payroll report will be watched anxiously as the goldilocks soft landing scenario is contingent on the continuation of a robust employment market that will continue to fuel consumer spending.