EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

November 28, 2006

Holiday weekend shopper spending up 19% over 2005

By Mary Jane Credeur , Bloomberg News

U.S. consumers shopping over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend spent 19 percent more than they did a year earlier, outpacing the advance of 2005, after retailers slashed prices to attract customers.

Consumers spent an average $360.15 each from Nov. 23 through yesterday, up from $302.81 a year earlier, the National Retail Federation said in a statement. Fewer people shopped, with about 140 million visiting stores during the four days including Thanksgiving, down from 145 million last year.

Shoppers took advantage of Wal-Mart Stores Inc.'s 37- inch LCD TV at $997, and Sears Holding Corp.'s discounted jewelry and toys. The industry counts on the last quarter of the year to generate a third of its annual profit.

"It's a healthy retail season, and it's also a good time to be a consumer," said Jeffrey Klinefelter, an analyst with Piper Jaffray & Co. in Minneapolis.

Sales on Nov. 24, called Black Friday because retailers once considered it the day they turned profitable for the year, rose 6 percent from last year to $8.96 billion, according to estimates by Chicago-based research firm ShopperTrak RCT Corp.

Weekend sales rose faster than last year, when consumers each spent an average of 14.2 percent more than in 2004. U.S. consumer confidence is close to a 15-month high as gasoline prices drop and unemployment remains at a five-year low.

While the industry overall saw gains over the Thanksgiving weekend, Wal-Mart, the world's biggest retailer, said sales at stores open more than a year fell in November, the first decline in a decade. The Bentonville, Arkansas-based company said Nov. 25 that its November sales at U.S. stores open at least a year dropped 0.1 percent, missing its forecast of unchanged sales.

"First Wal-Mart wanted to go upscale, now they're going back to cutting prices across the board," said Walter Todd, who helps manage $850 million at Greenwood Capital in Greenwood, S.C. "I think things are a bit loosey-goosey right now." Todd sold Wal-Mart shares this year, concerned about slowing sales.

Federated Department Stores Inc. declined 49 cents, or 1.1 percent, to $42.62, while Target Corp. increased 12 cents to $57.83.

Online shopping on Nov. 24 totaled $434 million, a 42 percent jump over last year, according to Reston, Virginia-based consulting firm ComScore Networks Inc. Consumers spent $8.31 billion this month through Nov. 24, a 23 percent increase over last year, ComScore said.

The National Retail Federation left unchanged its forecast for 5 percent sales growth in November and December to $457.4 billion.

About 33 percent of shoppers bought electronics over the weekend, including flat-panel television sets, Microsoft Corp.'s Zune digital music player and video-game consoles such as Nintendo Co.'s Wii and Sony Corp.'s PlayStation 3, the federation said.

More than 41 percent of consumers bought accessories or clothes over the weekend, the retail federation said. At a Macy's in King of Prussia, Penn., clothing by Jones Apparel Group Inc.'s Jones New York was 50 percent off, as were Nine West purses.

The National Retail Federation said 41 percent of shoppers purchased books, DVDs, CDs and video games, and 28 percent bought toys.