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ECONOMICS REPORT - Holiday Shopping Season in the U.S. - 2004-12-03

Broadcast: December 3, 2004

I’m Gwen Outen with the VOA Special English Economics Report.

Almost one-fourth of all personal spending in the United States takes place during the holiday season. There are gifts to give this month for Christmas, Hanukkah and the African American celebration of Kwanzaa. The traditional shopping season began last Friday, after Thanksgiving Day. Personal spending represents two-thirds of the economy, so holiday sales are especially important.

Reports on November results have just come out. Major sellers, especially lower-priced ones, had mostly moderate gains at stores open at least a year. Wal-Mart was up just seven-tenths of one percent. Wal-Mart is the biggest seller in the world. The company had expected growth of two to four percent in November, fueled by sales on "Black Friday."

The day after Thanksgiving is called that. Storekeepers used to record profits in black ink and losses in red ink. A day in the black means a return to profit.

But for this Black Friday, Wal-Mart decided not to cut prices as aggressively on some goods as other stores did. Wal-Mart says it has learned from this and will listen more to its customers this holiday season.

Businesses also listen to the Consumer Confidence Index to get an idea of how Americans feel about the economy. Many economists expected an increase in consumer confidence in November. But the Conference Board, a private group, says the index fell again for a fourth month.

The National Retail Federation estimated in September that holiday sales would increase four and one-half percent this year. Holiday sales increased five percent last year, after poor sales the year before.

The business group estimated that Americans will spend two hundred twenty thousand million dollars this season. It says they spent just over ten percent of that last weekend.

Also, it says more Americans for the first time this season plan to use a debit card than a credit card for purchases. A debit card, also called a check card, is linked to the money that a person has in a bank. In other words, users must have the money before they can spend it.

About thirty-five percent of shoppers said they would mainly use debit cards, compared to thirty percent for credit cards. Financial experts say this change might mean that more people want to keep to a budget this holiday season.

This VOA Special English Economics Report was written by Mario Ritter. This is Gwen Outen.