A leading financial services company is predicting a flat and chilly holiday, with sales coming in flat at $810 billion, despite signs of recovery in the economy.
The forecast, from Deloitte's Retail Group, says that despite upticks in some indicators, consumer concerns about the economy will prevent them from ho-ho-ho-ing their way to increased spending. Still, it says, that zero percent change in November to January retail sales is still more appealing than last year, when holiday sales actually declined 2.4%. That downturn was the first decline in Deloitte's reporting on the Commerce Department data since 1967.
"Although there are signs that suggest the economy is nearing the end of its darkest days, many consumers remain burdened by restricted credit availability, high unemployment and foreclosures," the company says in its analysis. "Americans continue to save at historically high rates while also paying down debt, and these factors combined suggest another chilly holiday season for retailers."
Deloitte believes spending may move higher if gas prices remain stable, home values continue to bounce back, and stocks continue to strengthen. "While the level of economic uncertainty may be lower than a year ago, consumers will likely proceed cautiously into the holiday season. Retailers appear to have prepared themselves for a challenging season by adjusting inventory and closely managing their expenses."
Recent weeks have seen some major retailers tipping their hands about how they see the holiday months shaping up, now that the gloomy back-to-school period is over. While the Wal-Mart Stores CEO has said he predicts a slow start to the holiday, with more spending happening closer to Christmas, a number of other stores have been a bit more upbeat, with some -- including Macy's, Nordstrom and J.C. Penney --even raising their earnings outlook in recent weeks, more confident of their inventory levels and cost-control programs.