Economic Outlook: Big retail boom?

By ANTHONY HALL, United Press International  |  Dec. 16, 2011 at 9:53 AM
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Question: What happened to the big boom before Christmas?

Answer: It came and went.

Each and every shopping year starts with the Big Bang on Black Friday that explodes and then fades gradually through the year until the next Black Friday happens along. There are some bursts of activity in what is otherwise a diminishing pattern of returns. Every holiday presents an opportunity for renewed vigor. But, by and large, it's a losing battle after Christmas. After that, retailers are just hanging on.

The most recent Black Friday was the most promising ever, with stores moving a record $11.4 billion worth of merchandise in 24 hours.

Analysts have conflicting theories of what retailers should do about that. With the depletion of retail inventories given a head start this year, fewer retailers are extending discounts out of necessity. Consequently, sales diminished, dropping week-to-week to the point that some retailers are considering hauling out the discount signs again.

Try to keep up: The Friday after Thanksgiving is Black Friday. The following Monday is Cyber Monday, the day Internet stores jump into the holiday spirit. In between is Small Business Saturday, which is set aside for independent retailers to flash their discount prowess.

So, what is Super Saturday?

That's the last Saturday before Christmas, which is considered a veritable last chance for retailers to assess their inventories and mark down accordingly.

This year, The New York Times pointed out, many retailers are considering Saturday Dec. 17 to be Super Saturday, in part because Christmas Eve would otherwise be the last Saturday before Christmas and a fair share of consumers do not shop on Christmas Eve as it is often set aside for quality time with family members.

But the other reason retailers are penciling in Super Saturday for Dec. 17 is because inventory reduction has not kept up with expectations -- especially after a record-breaking Black Friday that was followed by a drop in the U.S. unemployment rate from 9 percent to 8.6 percent.

Many a pundit declared the two to be directly related. Black Friday was over the top, they said, because the unemployment rate was down and hope for a recovery was in the air. Fewer people were worried they were about to lose their jobs, it was said. That's why Black Friday went so well.

Now this looks to be wrong. The other explanation, which was less popular two weeks ago, was that Black Friday went well because high numbers of consumers were still thinking they had to be thrifty this year. Those consumers aren't looking at economic data and making high-brow guesses. They're reacting to the money -- or the lack of money -- in their pockets, not to the promise that next year the U.S. economic recovery might get going again.

In international markets Friday, the Nikkei 225 index in Japan rose 0.29 percent while the Shanghai composite index in China added 2.01 percent. The Hang Seng index in Hong Kong rose 1.43 percent while the Sensex in India shed 2.18 percent.

The S&P/ASX 200 index in Australia rose 0.47 percent

In midday trading in Europe, the FTSE 100 index added 0.16 percent while the DAX 30 in Germany rose 0.08 percent. The CAC 40 in France slipped 0.5 percent while the Stoxx Europe 600 shed 0.23 percent.

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