Citing a strong Black Friday weekend, the National Retail Federation said it now expects holiday sales to rise 3.8 percent instead of the 2.8 percent year-over-year gain it forecast in October.
“After strong sales reports in October and November, along with a successful Black Friday weekend, retailers are cautiously optimistic that this season will turn out better than initially expected,” said NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay.
A 3.8 percent increase in November-December sales would be well above the 10-year average increase of 2.6 percent but lower than last year’s 5.2 percent increase, which was skewed by weak numbers during the 2009 recession.
The projected increase would be a record $469.1 billion in sales during the holiday period, when many retailers book 40 percent of their annual revenue. Consumer spending accounts for 70 percent of U.S. economic activity and supports a large portion of U.S. containerized imports and domestic intermodal shipments.
Transportation providers are hoping strong retail sales combined with lean inventories will generate restocking during the traditionally slack winter season. Several container lines have announced rate increases between Christmas and the Jan. 23 start of the Lunar New Year celebration that annually closes Chinese factories.
Shay cautioned that economic uncertainty could affect sales. “A number of factors, including the debt crisis in Europe and continued political wrangling in Washington, could impact consumer spending this holiday season and into 2012,” he said.
The monthly Global Port Tracker published by the NRF and Hackett Associates forecast for 0.3 increase in December container imports through major U.S. ports and raised its outlook for the first three months of 2012.
Journal of Commerce Economist Mario O. Moreno expects total U.S. containerized imports to be flat in the current quarter and rise 1.3 percent in the first quarter of 2012. He forecasts a 2.8 increase for 2012, with trans-Pacific imports rising 2.7 percent.
On Tuesday, the NRF said retail industry sales for November rose 4.5 percent year-over-year and issued a survey reporting that the average American has completed far less of their holiday shopping than in previous years.
“Consumer spending this holiday season has surpassed expectations, though many shoppers continue to stick to their budgets and buy only what they need,” said NRF Chief Economist Jack Kleinhenz. “Despite modest job and income growth, consumers have continuously proven they have the capacity to spend and we are encouraged by this and the recent sales growth we have seen so far this year.”