Real Holiday Spending Was Negative in 2007

Wednesday, December 26, 2007 | 06:17 AM

The Retail Sales post-mortem has begun, and it is as we expected: the weakest holiday spending season in five years.

Total sales gains from Thanksgiving to Christmas Eve were a nominal gain of 3.6%, according to data gathered by MasterCard’s SpendingPulse. Taking apart that data, we find that Real sales showed an actual 0.0% gain -- or worse -- over 2006 levels.

This weakness was despite the advantages the 2007 calendar gave Retailers over 2006: Thanksgiving fell on November 30th 23rd last year (versus November 22 '07), and Christmas Eve was Sunday evening (versus Monday '07). The calendar gifted stores with an extra 8 single day of holiday shopping. Plus, retailers even gained part of the final weekend (~about a third) over last year's inconvenient Sunday Xmas Eve.

Note: This sales data also includes Food & Energy. The 3.6% is before we make adjustments for inflation. The specifics of MasterCard’s data includes purchases made by more than 300 million MasterCard debit and credit card users; it covers not just store purchases, internet buys and gift cards: It also includes gasoline and meals at restaurants, both of which had seen significant price increases this year.

Excluding just the gas purchases alone, and holiday sales rose a lackluster 2.4%. If we back out supermarkets, other food plus restaurants (and their price increases), then (my ballpark estimate) sales rose approximately ~2% -- or a bit below the core rate of inflation. In other words, Real Sales may have reflected an actual loss over last year. This was despite the longer holiday shopping season.

What did sell? Well, lots and lots of marked down merchandise. This is likely to pressure retailers’ margins in the coming  earnings season. 

Here's the breakdown:

Online spending was $26.3 billion -- a 22.4% gain

Apparel rose 1.4% from a year ago;

    -Men's clothing climbed 2.3% 

    -Clothes for women fell 2.4%;

Footwear sales increased 6%

Luxury goods, excluding jewelry, rose 7.1% (ex-jewelery, -1.9%)

That last data point is quite intriguing: If we include jewelry, the luxury category declined 1.9%. I wonder whether this is primarily due to aspirational luxury shoppers (i.e., middle and upper middle class) pulling back, or some reduced spending by the wealthy. Regardless, it is rather unusual.

Finally, gift cards continue to push some sales from December to January. In the 2006 holiday season,  January sales made up 25% of the three-month period's total, up from 23.6% in the 2000-01.


For those of you who still have some shopping left in you, I have some good news: Many retailers, from the high-end to the low, will start slashing prices this morning. Open up any paper, and you wills ee full page ads from most of the major retailers:

Kohl's is 60 to 70% percent discounts
Macy’s is 50 to 70% (Plus a $10 coupon for purchases of $25 or more)
Bloomingdales 30-75% off (over 5 full pages in NYT A section)
Saks Fifth Avenue from 8 a.m. to noon, clothing will be 50% off 
Lord & Taylor 50-75% reductions
Brooks Brothers 40% off
Toys “R” Us is offering a buy-one-get-one-half-off promotion

The bad news? Americans are increasingly falling behind on their credit card payments. Credit card delinquencies and defaults are surging by "double-digit percentages" according to an Associated Press analysis of financial data from the country's largest card issuers.

We will soon need PSAs like those that Beer & Alcohol companies issue: "If you must shop, then shop  responsibly . . ."





Unpaid credit cards bedevil Americans
Americans' see their debt woes expand as unpaid credit card bills are on rise
Associated Press, Dec 24, 2007

Retail Rush Falls Short, Now Come More Sales
WSJ, December 26, 2007; Page B1

Weekend Shopping Surge Fails to Salvage U.S. Holiday Sales
Joseph Galante 
Bloomberg, December 26, 2007

Holiday Spending Is Weak, as Retailers Expected   
NYT, December 26, 2007   

Prices slashed for shopping blitz
NY Daily News, Wednesday, December 26th 2007, 4:00 AM

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Regarding the credit card defaults, I saw this coming a long time ago. (To be fair, many -- if not most -- of the readers here did as well.)

The chickens of overconsumption of coming home to roost.

My former colleagues in the bankruptcy practice sent me an e-mail saying that the bankruptcy business is booming in Oklahoma City (and this is normally the slow season).

It's like watching a slow motion train wreck play out before your eyes.

Posted by: OkieLawyer | Dec 26, 2007 7:59:21 AM

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