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US Holiday Sales Forecast to Grow Between 3.8% and 4.2% Says NRF

Oct 07, 2019

USA’s National Retail Federation (NRF) recently announced its forecast for retail sales in that country during the 2019 holiday season (For NRF: two months of November and December). NRF said that it expects sales for the period to increase by between 3.8% and 4.2% over 2018 holiday sales to a total of between US$ 727.9 billion and US$ 730.7 billion. The numbers, which exclude automobile dealers, gasoline stations and restaurants, compare with an average holiday sales increase of 3.7 percent over the previous five years, the organisation noted.

In 2018, holiday sales grew only by 2.1% to reach US$ 701.2 billion, which was below the expected estimates for that year. This, the NRF said was in a scenario marked by “a government shutdown, stock market volatility, tariffs and other issues”.  

However, in 2017, holiday sales had increased by a healthy 5.2% over the previous year’s sales.       

With this backdrop, and taking into account the current scenario, NRF is both optimistic as well as cautious.

“The U.S. economy is continuing to grow and consumer spending is still the primary engine behind that growth,” NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay said. “Nonetheless, there has clearly been a slowdown brought on by considerable uncertainty around issues including trade, interest rates, global risk factors and political rhetoric.  Consumers are in good financial shape and retailers expect a strong holiday season. However, confidence could be eroded by continued deterioration of these and other variables.”

Both, Shay’s optimism as well as his cautionary words, are echoed by NRF Chief Economist Jack Kleinhenz, who noted: “There are probably very few precedents for this uncertain macroeconomic environment. There are many moving parts and lots of distractions that make predictions difficult. There is significant economic unease, but current economic data and the recent momentum of the economy show that we can expect a much stronger holiday season than last year. Job growth and higher wages mean there’s more money in families’ pockets, so we see both the willingness and ability to spend this holiday season.”

NRF expects online and other non-store sales, which are included in the total, to increase between 11% and 14% to between US$ 162.6 billion and US$ 166.9 billion; up from US$ 146.5 billion last year.

The organisation was also uncertain about the effect of tariffs on holiday spending — “either directly or through consumer confidence” — which it said, remains to be seen.

“Some holiday merchandise — including apparel, footwear and televisions — is subject to new tariffs that took effect September 1, and other products will have the tariffs applied on December 15,” NRF pointed out. “Retailers are using a myriad of mitigation tactics to limit the impact on consumers, and the impact will ultimately vary by company and product. Small businesses, in particular, have already been forced to raise prices. Nonetheless, 79 percent of consumers surveyed for NRF in September were concerned that tariffs will cause prices to rise, potentially affecting their approach to shopping.”

The NRF holiday forecast is based on an economic model that takes into consideration a variety of indicators including employment, wages, consumer confidence, disposable income, consumer credit and previous retail sales. “Numbers forecast by NRF may differ from other organizations’ forecasts that define the holiday season as a longer time period or include retail sectors not counted by NRF such as restaurants,” the organisation noted.

NRF expects seasonal hiring to grow, as, even with trade uncertainty and the increasingly tight labour market, retailers have been hiring extra staff to meet expected demand during the holiday season. “NRF expects retailers to hire between 530,000 and 590,000 temporary workers, which compares with 554,000 in 2018,” the organisation concluded.

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