Bah, humbug! Holiday season may not be so jolly
The growth in seasonal spending is slowing as economic uncertainty looms.
The National Retail Federation estimates that spending during the Black Friday weekend hit a record $59.1 billion, an increase of 12.8% from 2011. But that represents a slowdown from 2011, when sales rose 16%.
Retailers aren't going to have an easy time of it during the next few weeks as they try to avoid sacrificing too much margin to bring in shoppers. Wall Street knows this, which explains why shares of many retailers, such as Wal-Mart (WMT), Target (TGT), Macy's (M) and Sears (SHLD), were trading down today despite the Black Friday and Cyber Monday hype. Amazon.com (AMZN), the largest e-tailer, and online auction giant eBay (EBAY), were trading up, though it is not clear whether this was a commentary on how investors expect them to fare during the holidays compared with their bricks-and-mortar counterparts.
"Bottom line is the environment is tough and discounts rule," writes Stacey Widlitz, an independent retail analyst, in an email. "Only difference with last year is that discounts are coming earlier and freebies are more aggressive (free shipping, price matching, free layaway). While that may be good news for consumers, retailers will pay the price when it comes to the bottom line."
As USA Today noted, forecasts for 2012 holiday spending call for increases ranging from 3% to 4.1%, considerably lower than last year's gain of 5.8%. The reasons for this are many. First, even Santa Claus is no match for the law of large numbers. Coming out of a recession, figures are bound to show more dramatic changes that grow smaller over time as the economy continues to improve. Then there's the bigger picture.
Many Americans are still suffering as the U.S. economy expands at an anemic rate of less than 2%. Worldwide economic growth is forecast by the International Monetary Fund to be 3.3%, down from an earlier forecast. The IMF also puts the odds of a recession in the U.S. next year at 15%. Economists are expecting the unemployment rate to stay stuck around 8% for the foreseeable future, according to the New York Times. The specter of the fiscal cliff, continued turmoil in Europe and worries about a slowdown in China don't help matters either.
It's hardly a shock that the Bankrate.com Financial Security Index slumped in November to its third-lowest reading of the year. More than one-third of Americans say their top financial priority is getting caught up on their bills, the survey says.
"This is consistent with the stagnant household incomes many people are experiencing, as well as continued escalation in food, healthcare and energy costs that are squeezing households' buying power," said Greg McBride, CFA, Bankrate.com's senior financial analyst, in a press release.
The good news for consumers is that there will be plenty of bargains this holiday season, though it remains to be seen whether retailers will be feeling merry once it's all over.
Jonathan Berr is long Target. Follow him on Twitter @jdberr
More from MSN Money
Copyright © 2014 Microsoft. All rights reserved.
Fundamental company data and historical chart data provided by Morningstar Inc. Real-time index quotes and delayed quotes supplied by Morningstar Inc. Quotes delayed by up to 15 minutes, except where indicated otherwise. Fund summary, fund performance and dividend data provided by Morningstar Inc. Analyst recommendations provided by Zacks Investment Research. StockScouter data provided by Verus Analytics. IPO data provided by Hoover's Inc. Index membership data provided by Morningstar Inc.
[BRIEFING.COM] The stock market ended the Wednesday session on a mixed note. The tech-heavy Nasdaq displayed relative strength, climbing 0.4%, while the S&P 500 added 0.2% with five sectors settling in the green. For its part, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (-0.2%) spent the entire session below its flat line.
Equities started the midweek affair on a rather unassuming note in the absence of market-moving news or economic releases. With those pieces missing from the equation, ... More
More Market News
4 analysts downgrade the stock the day after a disappointing quarterly report.
MUST-SEE ON MSN
- Video: Easy DIY smoked meats at home
A charcuterie master shares his process for cold-smoking meat at home.
- Jetpacks about to go mainstream
- Weird things covered by home insurance
- Bing: 70 percent of adults report 'digital eye strain'