Shopping center group trims Nov. sales forecast

AP News
Posted: Dec 01, 2009 4:25 PM

A prominent retail trade group trimmed its November sales growth forecast on Tuesday, citing more shoppers saying they've delayed holiday purchasing compared with a year ago.

Michael P. Niemira, chief economist for the International Council of Shopping Centers, now predicts that November sales at stores open at least a year _ a key industry barometer _ will be up 3 to 4 percent, compared with the steep 7.7 percent drop a year ago.

The uneven start is worrisome to economists because how consumers behave during the holidays and beyond will be key to how strongly the economy rebounds from the worst recession since the 1930s.

That's because spending on goods and services for consumers accounts for about 70 percent of U.S. economic activity by federal measures. The holiday shopping season accounts for as much as 40 percent of annual sales and profits for many retailers.

But the projection is below Niemira's original forecast for growth in a range of 5 percent to 8 percent.

Sales at stores open at least a year are considered a key indicator of a retailer's health.

Major retailers are scheduled to report final November results Thursday. The tally excludes Wal-Mart Stores Inc., which stopped reporting its monthly sales figures after April.

ICSC's trimmed forecast follows a mixed start to the holiday shopping season, though online sales were a bright spot. Niemira said in a statement that electronics was another strong category.

But while analysts are still dissecting the Thanksgiving weekend receipts to decipher the mindset of shoppers, they also know that the weekend's performance is not a predictor for the critical selling period since it only accounts for about 10 percent of overall holiday sales, according to ShopperTrak, which tracks sales and traffic at more than 50,000 outlets.

Meanwhile, shoppers don't seem to be in a hurry to finish their holiday gift buying this year.

Niemira noted that his group's latest phone survey of 1,000 shoppers conducted from Wednesday through Sunday showed that consumers polled reported an average 42.2 pecent of their shopping completed, compared with 48.3 percent during the same week a year ago.

ShopperTrak, which is based in Chicago and tracks sales and traffic at more than 50,000 outlets, said late Monday that retail sales for Friday and Saturday edged up 0.9 percent to $16.77 billion, while customer traffic fell 2.7 percent compared with last year.

ShopperTrak derives its estimates from crowd-counting sensors in stores, combined with data from the retailers themselves on spending and how it relates to customer traffic.

Meanwhile, online sales Thursday and Friday, however, rose to $913 million, up 11 percent compared with last year, according to data released Sunday by comScore, an Internet research firm.