Looking ahead to Christmas selling

It’s well known that the Christmas buying season is a make or break time for many businesses. How strong will buying be this year? N.C. State University economist Mike Walden provides his outlook.

“Well … I have to laugh. It seems like only yesterday we talked about this for last year. It seems like as we age, Christmas is coming faster and faster. But anyway I think the consensus (among) many economists, unfortunately, is we’re not going to have a very strong Christmas buying season.

“The way we measure this is what we do is we look at sales during the so-called Christmas buying season, which … translates into most of November and December. And we look at how those sales increase over the last year. Very simple. And the faster they increase, the better the season. The slower the increase, where if there’s a decrease, the worse.

“Now economists are looking for an increase in Christmas sales this year. So, that’s the good news. But we’re looking for a very, very modest increase. Maybe 1 or 2 percent increase in total sales over last year seems to be the consensus. And it gets even worse when you take out inflation and when you express it on a per person or per household basis.

“Probably sales will be down. And of course, the reasons are obvious. … We still have a challenging job situation. We still have households being frugal spenders because they’re trying to pay down on debt and increasing saving.

“So this sounds like a broken record, but I think we’re going to have a little bit of improvement, but certainly not the kind of improvement when you take account of other factors that we’d like to see.”

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