Finally, a 'non-recession holiday season'

Happy holidays, indeed.

A retail industry report released last week predicted holiday sales will gain in 2009, a year after falling some 5 percent in the first industrywide decline in 40 years.

"Retailers will experience their first non-recession holiday season in three years," said, Michael Niemira, chief economist at the International Council of Shopping.

The council forecast sales at major chain stores, excluding Wal-Mart Stores, will rise 1 percent for the combined months of November and December and gain 1.5 percent for the extended November-through-January season. Sales have been pushed past New Year's with gift card purchases.

Two other recent reports - from Retail Forward and Deloitte Services - each separately predicted holiday retail sales will remain flat with the year-ago period.

After trending downward for the last two years, U.S. average weekly earnings have risen, which may translate to "a positive omen" this holiday season, the shopping center group said.

While the trend of consumers buying items for themselves may be "at risk," spending on gifts will likely improve this year, Niemira said. "The wear and tear of the recession and financial crisis on the consumer psyche (are) slowly giving way to renewed hope, optimism and most likely gift buying."

- Chicago Tribune/MarketWatch


100 toys for $10: Wal-Mart will offer more than 100 toys at $10 during the key holiday season, up from just 10 a year ago. Some of the toys Wal-Mart is promoting include Barbie, Play-Doh, Transformers action figures, and My Little Pony. Several board games available for $10 include Battleship, Monopoly, Trouble and Jenga.

Gift card fees cut: American Express has eliminated initial monthly fees on its popular gift cards, a move that is likely to pressure its competitors to do the same. The company's decision goes further than legislation Congress enacted that would limit, but not eliminate, monthly fees on gift cards. American Express will not charge monthly fees in the first year, but begin charging $2 a month after that. The company will continue a purchase charge from $2.95 to $6.95.

Video console prices drop: All three major video game consoles have cut prices in time for the holidays: Nintendo Wii by $50 to $199 - the first price reduction since its launch in 2006; Sony PlayStation 3 by $100 to $299; and the top-end Microsoft Xbox 360 Elite unit by $100 to $299 and the discontinued Xbox 360 Pro by $50 to $250.

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