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Dec. 22, 2012 at 1:00 PM
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Late-start shoppers are scrambling

NEW YORK, Dec. 22 (UPI) -- U.S. shoppers are not finished with gift buying yet, and retailers said the holiday shopping season still has a chance of doing well after uneven sales so far.

"People are very focused. They have their list and it's bam, bam, bam!" said Kim Freeburn, a district vice president for Macy's stores. "It's an intense customer this weekend."

A recent Consumer Reports survey indicated two-thirds of shoppers said they were not done with holiday gift-buying, the Los Angeles Times reported Saturday.

About 14 percent indicated they had yet to begin, the survey found.

The survey indicated that those who have shopped have spent an average of $340 on gifts -- although shoppers said in a Gallup survey they expected to spend $770 on gifts.

The National Retail Federation predicted a 4.1 percent rise in sales over 2011, with consumers shelling out $586.1 billion by the time the holidays have come and gone.

November and December business can make or break the year for retailers -- with an estimated 40 percent of their business associated with holiday shopping.

So far, a market analyst said the shopping season has been disappointing.

"Holiday sales have been off for weeks. The bad news is this year will be based on price more than merchandise, as consumers have been groomed to wait to be rewarded with better discounts," said Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst at NPD Group.

Price of milk could double soon

WASHINGTON, Dec. 22 (UPI) -- Congressional inaction could send the price of milk up to $7 per gallon in 2013, the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture said.

"If you like anything made with milk, you're going to be impacted by the fact that there's no farm bill," said Secretary Tim Vilsack in a recent interview.

National Milk Producers Federation spokesman Chris Galen called the possibility that milk prices may double -- from the current average of $3.65 a gallon -- the "dairy cliff," CNN reported Saturday.

Many of the federation's 30,000 dairy farmer members fear a consumer revolt if milk prices double, with shoppers turning to other beverages and using milk replacement products, like soy milk.

There is time for Congress to intervene, with a stop-gap pricing agreement that would prevent the price from rising until a new farm bill was in place, but as matters stand the farm bill expired in the summer and several provisions are coming to the end of their shelf-life, which is Jan. 1 for the milk subsidy provision.

The government keeps the price of milk up by buying dairy products if the price falls below a set threshold. If the subsidy ends Jan. 1, the government would have to use a default formula -- a pricing formula set up in 1949 -- that would force the government to buy milk at about twice the current price.

In the meantime, Congress has been preoccupied with the other cliff, the so-called fiscal cliff, the combination of $500 billion in spending cuts and tax hikes that would take effect Jan. 1 if a compromise budget bill is not passed.

UAW tells members to expect profit pay

DETROIT, Dec. 22 (UPI) -- Hourly workers at U.S. automakers Ford Motor Co. and General Motors Co. can expect sizable profit sharing pay for 2012, the United Auto Workers said.

The union has told its members GM workers can expect a profit sharing check for $7,000, while Ford employees can expect $8,000, The Wall Street Journal reported Saturday.

The profit sharing check for GM workers matches their 2011 pay based on profits. For Ford workers, 2012 will be a step up from 2011, when hourly workers earned $6,200 in profit sharing compensation.

North American automobile sales have risen 14 percent in 2012 over 2011, industry analysts at Edmunds.com said.

New car sales are expected to reach 14.5 million in 2012 and demand is keeping up despite rising prices, the newspaper said.

Walgreen profits skid in first quarter

DEERFIELD, Ill., Dec. 22 (UPI) -- U.S. pharmaceutical giant Walgreen Co. said profits dropped 25 percent in the three months ending Nov. 30, its first fiscal quarter.

The company posted earnings of $413 million or 43 cents per share, the Chicago Tribune reported Saturday. Earnings hit $554 million or 63 cents per share, in the same period a year earlier.

The jolt came from a dispute with Express Scripts, a company that manages drug benefits.

Walgreen and Express Scripts broke off doing business together this year due to a contract dispute. They have resumed their business relationship, but the split caused many pharmacy customers to take their business to rival firms, such as Rite Aid Corp. or CVS Caremark Corp, then newspaper said.

Industry analysts said the temporary split with Express Scripts may have cost Walgreen $4 billion of business.

Walgreen President and Chief Executive Officer Greg Wasson said customers were returning to Walgreen.

"They're coming back from every player. We feel good with our win-back," Wasson said in a conference call.

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