Q&A On Holiday Shopping

Tyler Durden's picture

As America prepares to spend its meager savings (which today were reported to have increased modestly from 4 year lows of 3.3% to 3.5%) and dip even more in debt on yet another epic shopping exodus which begins in just over 24 hours and continues through the end of the year, whereby people are somehow once again fooled into believing they "save money" by "spending money", those with a more pragmatic eye may wonder if this will be the weakest holiday shopping season in a decade, if the economy indeed mimics the stock market (the opposite, not so much), and whether it is now time to finally short consumer discretionary stocks with impunity. Goldman's Zach Pandl answers this question and more with his "Q&A on Holiday Shopping." To wit: "The US consumer looks mixed heading into the holiday season. On the one hand, growth in consumer activity slowed significantly this year. On the other hand, the most recent spending numbers have shown an incremental improvement.  In addition, job growth has been holding up, which should underpin spending. Retail industry groups expect year-over-year growth in holiday sales of 2-3%, down from a 4-5% increase last year. The GS/ICSC 2011 Holiday Spending Intentions Survey also seems consistent with slightly slower growth than last year." Naturally, this being Goldman, if there is a way to take the other side of the bet (or do what GS is doing and not its clients) that is probably not such a bad idea.

From Goldman: Q&A on Holiday Shopping

The 2011 holiday shopping season kicks off in earnest this week with “Black Friday”, the day after Thanksgiving and traditionally the busiest day in the year for US retailers. Retail sales are important year-round, but the holiday shopping season provides a unique look at discretionary consumer spending at peak buying time. Here we discuss the outlook for this year’s holiday shopping season in Q&A format.

When is the Holiday Shopping Season?

The US holiday shopping season is usually defined as retail sales in November and December. Because of gift buying and seasonal events, these months account for an outsized share of consumer spending (about one fifth of the annual total), and are the cause of much of the seasonality in GDP and employment.

According to surveys, about 40% of consumers begin their holiday shopping before November , and the increasing use of gift cards means that a larger share of purchases take place in January or later (retailers report gift card sales when they are redeemed, rather than when the gift card is originally sold). But the weeks between Thanksgiving and the end of the year still account for the bulk of holiday sales.

Within this period, a few key dates usually see the heaviest shopper traffic. Normally Black Friday is the busiest shopping day, according to retail research firm ShopperTrak. After Black Friday, the next four busiest days are likely to be Saturday December 17 (“Super Saturday”), Friday December 23, Monday December 26, and Thursday December 22. Typically one third of all seasonal sales are made one week before Christmas. Analysts often watch the Monday after Thanksgiving (“Cyber Monday”) for an indication of online holiday sales.

How Are US Consumers Looking?

The US consumer looks mixed heading into this year’s holiday season. On the one hand, growth in consumer-related activity slowed significantly over the last few quarters. For example, our Consumer CAI—a coincident index of consumer activity constructed with various monthly indicators—slowed from 3.2% last December to 1.6% in October (Exhibit 1). Much of the slowdown reflects the deterioration in consumer confidence and weaker disposable personal income growth, which may weigh on household spending during the holidays.

On the other hand, the most recent spending numbers have shown an incremental improvement. “Core” retail sales (sales ex-autos, gasoline and building materials) increased by 0.5% month-over-month in September and 0.6% in October. Real disposable income also increased in October, the first gain in four months. In addition, job growth has been holding up reasonably well—jobless claims are coming down and nonfarm payroll employment has increased by an average of 114,000 over the last three months. Steady payroll growth should underpin consumer spending during the holiday season and in 2012.

What Is Expected This Year?

Several retail industry groups produce forecasts for holiday spending. The definition of holiday sales differs slightly depending on the source, but in general expectations are for year-over-year (yoy) nominal growth of 2-3%, down from a 4-5% yoy increase last year (Exhibit 2). This compares to average growth over the last ten years of approximately 2.5%.

Our GS/ICSC 2011 Holiday Spending Intentions Survey also seems consistent with slightly slower growth than last year. In this year’s survey, 62% of respondents said they planned to spend the same amount or more on holiday gifts, the same percentage as in 2010. However, a greater percentage said that they planned to be more restrained on purchases of personal items, and this shift was largest for middle-income households. The survey also showed more planned spending on Black Friday, which can be interpreted as evidence of price-conscious shopping given heavier discounting on that day.

How Should We Track Holiday Shopping?

The most widely used measures of holiday shopping are derived from the Commerce Department’s monthly retail sales report. Holiday spending has the greatest impact on a few categories, the largest of which is referred to as “GAFO” (General Merchandise, Apparel and Accessories, Furniture and Other Sales), and reflects products typically found at department stores. Other retail categories often included in measures of holiday sales are health and personal care stores (e.g. drug stores), online and catalogue sales, and food and beverage stores.

We will have a clear view of the holiday shopping season by mid-January, when the Commerce Department releases December retail sales. An even more detailed breakdown—including the GAFO category—will be available in mid-February. For a more real-time read on holiday spending, we track two additional sources: the weekly chain-store sales reports and commentary from retail industry groups.

Weekly chain-store sales indexes from Johnson-Redbook and GS/ICSC provide timely quantitative information on holiday spending. However, these measures are highly volatile, they can be distorted by weather and other factors, and they do not always map well into the Commerce Department’s official estimate of retail sales. In addition, in previous years we have noticed a tendency for the chain-store indexes to decline in the weeks between Black Friday and Christmas, even after seasonal adjustment (Exhibit 3). This is not very surprising in light of the difficulty in seasonally adjusting weekly data, but the pattern seems to drive press commentary around holiday shopping and should be taken into account. Given that firms ramped up Black Friday promotional activity this year (e.g. with earlier opening times), the early-December lull could be especially pronounced.

Retail industry groups provide ongoing commentary on holiday sales as the season progresses—especially after Black Friday and other key shopping days—and occasionally update their forecasts. We tend to follow the commentary from the National Retail Federation (www.nrf.com), ICSC (holiday.icsc.org) and ShopperTrak (www.shoppertrak.com), as well as the views of our own retail analysts.

A few factors can complicate interpretation of industry commentary. For example, a secular trend toward online shopping means that growth rates in these categories are usually much higher than for seasonal spending as a whole—this year the ICSC expects 10% growth in online/mail order sales but only a 3% increase in GAFO sales. Growth in foot traffic also does not always translate well into sales.

Despite a few drawbacks, these resources provide helpful timely color on holiday sales. We forecast that real personal consumption expenditure will increase by 2.0% quarter-over-quarter annualized in the fourth quarter, or 1.8% yoy. Based on historical relationships, this would be consistent with holiday GAFO sales growth of about 3.0% yoy.

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I think I need to buy a gun's picture

i think this is the end the last season......no reason to send anything else over from overseas we are broke

Cheesy Bastard's picture

Yup, no reason to fight crowds. Stuff will stay cheap this year.

erg's picture

No Youtube clips of people being trampled by the catatonic herd hurtling toward the next shiny bauble?

Cheesy Bastard's picture

Uh, they will still be there.  You should not.

erg's picture

Check. Avoid the great slavering masses.

Cursive's picture


Check. Avoid the great slavering masses.

America, sadly, has sold out her traditions of family and home to hang out at a five and dime tonight.  Sad.  Very sad.  One good thing about an economic depression is that it might re-focus Americans (and others) on the important things in life.


Cursive's picture

@Cheesy Bastard

Yup, no reason to fight crowds. Stuff will stay cheap this year.

I have this sentiment as well.

Caviar Emptor's picture

Let's get one thing straight: Shopping will be poor. Retail stocks will remain richly valued. 

I think even the most casual observers have figured out the game by this point. And fewer and fewer are fooled. The stok market is now the equivalent of what Pravda was at the end of the Soviet Union, an official disinformation agency

peekcrackers's picture

Caviar Emptor

shopping will be poor .. or will the poor be shopping ?

Doña K's picture

Unfortunately, the lower 50% prefer symbolism over substance. Somehow psychologically, they want to believe that everything is gonna be okay.

Caviar Emptor's picture

-According to ICSC: Retailers experienced their first sales decline in over 3 weeks as sales dipped by 0.9 percent for the week ending Nov 19 <---close to holiday shopping

-Oct Personal spending reported today slowed to +0.1% from 0.6% MoM

-Inventory investment in Q3GDP revision,  ahead of holiday season was much weaker than expected (producers not optimistic)

-I don't need to tell you about employment, real median incomes and CPI . PLus the 99weekers are now exceeding the limit and falling off, exhausting their stimulus-driven spending. 

So that leaves way less meat on the bones. The optimism of the last 2 years is vaporizing

Postal's picture

I work at a box retailer and we've had to cancel several trucks from the warehouse because the merchandise isn't moving. The old hands say it will still be ugly (as in human behavior during black Friday) and that we don't have the sales of previous years.

mayhem_korner's picture



Shopping should be poor.  But let's keep in mind the denial mindset that dug this hole in the first place: 

Things will get better.  I don't have the money now, but hey, the rising tide is around the bend, and I will be rescued.  Besides, all these other people are out here buying, so things can't be that bad...plus, this nice woman is waving an extra 15% savings if I sign up for the store credit card today.

This season should be down 10% or more from last year, but it will be far better than that. 

chump666's picture

There is nothing to buy, no new Apple products, no new tech stuff, nothing.  It will be a flop.  ZH is right,  do what Goldman is going do, sell the rallies.

UP Forester's picture

But, but, but, if we don't load up on useless trinkets, "the terrrrrrists win!"

Cursive's picture


There is nothing to buy, no new Apple products, no new tech stuff, nothing.  It will be a flop.

This is a consequence of the depression.  Companies have cut back on budgets or closed shop, so fewer innovations and new products appear.  Some observers confuse the lack of supply as the cause, but it's really a lack of demand and the subsequent deleveraging that begins this process.  Regardless, merchandise becomes harder to find or disappears altogether.

peekcrackers's picture

50 to 60 %  off is the new everyday norm .. China won that race to the bottom

azusgm's picture

Absolutely could not believe that the PPT didn't goose the market in the last hour today. Never thought TPTB would let the last trading day before Black Friday end down. Really unexpected.

BTW, this will be the 2nd year in a row that I'll be giving one-ounce silver rounds for Christmas.

Not interested in being a stimulus program for China.

peekcrackers's picture

Not interested in being a stimulus program for China

Well said . and I agree silver rounds are a great gift ..



ArdentArgent's picture

Me too.  The nieces and nephews will be getting one ounce silver each this Christmas.  Started this three years ago.  Same for birthdays.  Why buy Chinese crap that they don't need or want?


If the Mayans are correct, which, at this point, who can argue that they definitely won't be, perhaps the smartest people are the ones without jobs and spending their very last pennies. 

Carlyle Groupie's picture

The Mayans. Their calendar will reset to day one the day after it ends. The way they planned it to.

johnnynaps's picture

I know my spending will be down 100%. And, knowing that I take away from this crooked market and some rich shareholder's take equals priceless feeling!

kito's picture

In the land of buy- sexuals, shopping is the ultimate aphrodisiac

Caviar Emptor's picture

Even shopaholics get a hangover. There's a fundamental shift going on. People like you and me want the truth. We're not alone. 

disabledvet's picture

"what is the holiday season"? And they wonder why the financial district of New York obliterated itself in 2008 only to be followed up by MF Global just three short years later. God is sick and tired of the phucking bullshit. "that's what the holiday season is." Of course "home by Christmas" becoming "in Syria" seems a little rich. Should we be surprised?

Seasmoke's picture

just got back from an upscale mall.......granted it was the day before thanksgiving, so might not be best observation day, however the mall was empty ......i was shocked how many stores had ZERO customers in them......then when i went up to foodcourt, i was amazed that WENDYS has 10-1 ratio of people waitingin line to order vs. all the other fast foods COMBINED...........



dwdollar's picture

The restaurants and mall around here have had significantly less business (compared to the last couple of years) for about 6 months now. I wouldn't trust a FED stat if my life depended on it. I'll use my own eyes thanks.

UP Forester's picture

The mall here has 9 stores open.  Two are consignment, a JCPenny's, a Dunham's, a local jam shop, and 18 empty stalls.  Life is good.

l.hauri's picture

I know what you mean. I have the same opinion. yachts turkey

yabyum's picture

Wendys re-did their burgers,.,,,,,much improved. a good value if you eat that stuff. Give the kids a Morgan doller in the stocking. That is even better value.

slewie the pi-rat's picture

"The US consumer looks mixed..."

jeeeez! everything looks mixed!

sleet storm

followed by sheet storm;  ho, ho, ho!

Caviar Emptor's picture

The mood of the country, and the world, has gotten grumpy. It's getting so a yuppie can't fully express her aspirationalism or his manifest shopping destiny anymore. We need stimulus!

Mark123's picture

If you stripped out the sales due to increased sub-prime credit cards and auto loans there would be much less spending.  41% of all car loans are now subprime....really healthy (per Edmunds). 

chump666's picture

Asia bull trap is in, now sucking in the suckers.   On wires some BoJ butnut is getting ready for a EZ meltdown. 

TOKYO (Dow Jones)--Bank of Japan Gov. Masaaki Shirakawa on Thursday stressed the need for Japan to prepare against being roiled by possible major financial turmoil stemming from Europe's sovereign debt crisis, according to government officials.


holdbuysell's picture

"if there is a way to take the other side of the bet (or do what GS is doing and not its clients) that is probably not such a bad idea."

If Goldman makes money doing the opposite of what it recommends its clients do, then does that mean its clients lose money?

And if so, how does Goldman retain clients? What's going on here?

MrSteve's picture

From the Watergate Investigation, we learned to follow the money. Today's W$J reported that magazine ads were way down because advertisers thought they weren't getting any bang for their buck.

So if you follow the smart money, they aren't spending very much money on known ROI channels.... Is that because so much less money is being spent, per their own "good info"? These managers see live couponing and UPC check-out data feeds, the consumer in the check-out line in real time.

Take their lead to the bank. Ad managers like  those from P&G and Kraft and major ad agencies are not clueless. They know their target markets and they are getting out of Dodge. The recession is baked in.

Space Potato's picture

Are these people really from the same planet? It's like taking bets on the trajectory of migratory birds. Whoops! I think that's already a bet.  



Love it!

Spastica Rex's picture

How many shopping days last holiday season? How many this?

Cursive's picture

@Spastica Rex / SilverIsKing

Good point.  This makes a big difference in yoy comparisons.

Dre4dwolf's picture

Every room in my house has a 55" screen in it, I think the problem with the economy is that everyone already has everything they want.


100 million people squating in foreclosed homes for free, with all the walls covered in flat panels.


Hell I haven't payed my water bill in a year and I still have water.


Fuck um all, I don't get why anyone really pays their bills anymore , the entire financial/monetary system is a scam anyway and its falling apart, I see no point in paying off anything, if they want all this crap they can have it, I got bored of it anyway.

blunderdog's picture

I don't get why anyone really pays their bills anymore.

Ya gotta pay that shit they'll turn off and you'll miss. 

Not much reason to pay today for that thing you bought a year ago, tho.  Nobody wants that thing anymore.  You fucked up.

prains's picture

americans need to shop like they need another burger or another boob job, when does the gluttony end?

Messianic's picture

Obviously, McRibs, Ipads and Debt = happiness.


Or so the bankers tell me.

eaglefalcon's picture

if i buy two gold coins this friday, does that count for holiday shopping?  or that's just investment?  or both 

GiantVampireSquid vs OWS UFC 2012's picture

You forgot to indicate the 2011 recession.  Oh wait it's not official yet.  Gotta admit it fits well with fig1.

1a2b3c4d's picture

I love Q & A formats. They allow you to ask yourself softball, fat pitch questions, and hit home runs with ease and aplomb.

Control the questions asked = control the information dolled out.

XRAYD's picture

Calls for the Tepper play ...


If the shopping is weak, the Bernank will twistqueeze3


If it is strong, the WealthEffect continues.


Balls to the wall buying either way!

Grand Supercycle's picture

USD selling pressure continues and the prospect of an equity xmas rally and EURUSD bullish spike returns.