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Friday, July 11, 2014

Economic bad news slows spending in October

BY ANNE D'INNOCENZIO
Associated Press

NEW YORK — Americans were shopping in October, but they were spending at a slower clip than expected as they faced a barrage of bad economic news.

October revenue at stores open at least a year — an indicator of a retailer's health — rose 3.7 percent, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers' tally of 25 retailers. But 13 of 19 retailers missed Wall Street estimates for October revenue, according to Thomson Reuters. That included big merchants like Macy's, Saks and Target.

The results reflect Americans' cautious spending habits. Consumers continue to worry about the challenges of the weak economy, including high unemployment and a weak housing market.

At the same time, those who have jobs have paid down their debt since the recession and are starting to feel more comfortable about spending. Retailers hope they'll continue to do so heading into the holiday shopping season.

But so far, consumers aren't giving them a clear sign.

"The softer trend in my mind raises questions of whether this is a new trend or a temporary respite before it gets back to stronger spending," said Michael Niemira, chief economist at the International Council of Shopping Centers.

The National Retail Federation, the nation's largest retail trade group, predicts revenue in November and December will rise 2.8 percent to $465.6 billion this year. That would be smaller than the 5.2 percent increase last year, but higher than the average over the last 10 years.

"Consumers are regrouping and retrenching and saving their pennies for the holiday season," said Ken Perkins, president of Retail Metrics, a research firm.

But stores likely will have to work hard to get people to part with their money during the season.

Many retailers already are beginning to offer holiday discounts to draw shoppers in early. Amazon.com, for instance, launched a sale this week that included such deals as 10-carat white-gold diamond-studded earrings marked down to $270 from $1,199.99.

"This is an effort to stimulate the holiday season to be longer and longer," said Janet Hoffman, managing director of Accenture's global retailing practice.

Retailers are doing more than discounting. Some, like Wal-Mart Stores Inc., are offering to match the cheaper prices consumers find at competitors. And other stores, including Target and Macy's, have announced expanded hours on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving and the official kickoff to the holiday season.

Retailers have some reasons to be optimistic that the incentives will work.

Although October results weren't as promising as retailers had hoped, revenue was affected by unseasonably warm weather during the beginning of the month and a snowstorm at the end of the month. And most merchants reported revenue that was only slightly off Wall Street estimates.

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