Christmas Eve Retail Post-Mortem

by: Barry Ritholtz

While we won't get the full data for a few days, some early numbers are beginning to come in. The most chartable thing I can say about holiday sales is that it was mixed:

Retail Sales Fell for Fourth Week, ShopperTrak Says -- Sales at U.S. stores fell for the fourth straight week as rising fuel and food prices threatened to hand retailers their worst holiday shopping season in five years.

Spending fell 2.2% for the week through Dec. 22 from a year earlier, Chicago-based ShopperTrak RCT Corp. said in a statement Monday. A 7.6 percent increase on the Saturday before Christmas wasn't enough to lift retailers' revenue last week as shoppers grapple with $3-a-gallon gasoline and a deepening housing slump. This year's holiday shopping season may grow at the slowest pace since 2002 as stores struggle to recapture the gains they saw on the Friday after Thanksgiving. (Bloomberg)

Target Warns Same-Store Sales For December May Decline Target (NYSE:TGT) warned on Monday that December sales at stores open at least one year were running well below its previous forecast and may actually decline, jeopardizing earnings growth at the No. 2 U.S. retailer.

The warning, among the earliest assessments of holiday retail traffic, fuels fears that the U.S. consumer is starting to feel the pinch of a slower economy, higher prices and a much tighter credit market. After the market closed in a holiday-shortened session, Target said that based on sales in the first three weeks of December and projected sales over the next two weeks, sales for the five weeks ending Jan. 5 would likely lie in a range of plus 1% to minus 1%. In early November, the company forecast same-store sales for the month of December would slump into the low single digit range, and on a calendar-adjusted basis same-store sales would rise 3% to 5%. (Marketwatch)

• Let's take a closer look at those ShopperTrak survey numbers, released Monday afternoon: Weekend sales jumped 18.7% over a year ago. ShopperTrak had reported sluggish sales leading into the final weekend.

Why the big leap? BLAME THE CALENDAR, as Christmas Eve 2006 fell on a Sunday. This year, shoppers had many more hours to hit the malls as compared to last year. (CNN)

• One clear shopping winner? Costco Notches 'Pretty Good' Holiday Sales, 'Clean' Inventories: Costco Wholesale Corp. (NASDAQ:COST) has registered "pretty good" holiday-season results so far and has largely avoided inventory gluts that would lead to markdowns, the retailer's chief financial officer said."Generally speaking, our season went well," Costco CFO Richard Galanti said Monday in an interview. "We were left pretty clean in terms of seasonal markdowns. On the food and sundry side, items that were strong were high-end chocolate gift packs and high-end nut gifts packs. All of our seasonal gift packs sold through pretty well." He declined to divulge specific figures. (WSJ)

And as we noted in Sunday's linkfest, Best Buy (NYSE:BBY) had a very good season, Lifting Outlook as Profit Jump Defies Retail Softness.

That's the mix of it: Tech/Gadgets and discounters did well, online continues to grow, but generally retail saw a constrained consumer. It's hard to get away from the conclusion that this was at best a mediocre Christmas shopping season...