Holidazed

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Bah, Humbug! Chasing Holiday Sales Numbers Is Stupid

For the record, I am a bit of a Grinch. I do not relish the Christmas excess. The overload of cookies, the annoying trips to the mall, trying to pick the right gift for a father who is addicted to eBay (NASDAQ:EBAY) and literally buys himself anything he feels like … you can shove ALL of it.

Bah, humbug.

I am also a Grinch when it comes to the bull about consumers driving almost three-quarters of the nation’s economy — because it’s patently untrue. Medicare and Medicaid is part of that “70% of GDP” figure, because it’s really consumer-related expenses under the “personal consumption” umbrella that may have absolutely nothing to do with shopping or retail. So stop shoving holiday shopping down my throat as a massive economic engine, because this argument is overdone.

Yes, a lot of retailers see a big bounce in Q4. Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) does almost double the revenue in Q4 that it does in other periods. Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT) regularly does 15% more. Some seasonal businesses like Shutterfly (NASDAQ:SFLY) only turn a profit in the fourth quarter thanks to the boom in self-absorbed and overwrought family Christmas cards.

But alas, Christmas comes earlier and earlier every year — and just as we have with the holiday itself, we have made holiday sales trends an all-year event, diluting the importance of the whole experience.

So here we are in the first week of October, and — whether I like it or not — preliminary holiday sales figures have started to roll out. And the reports have only reaffirmed my hatred of consumers’ and businesses’ addiction to holiday sales news.

Here’s the scoop, according to Reuters:

Retail sales should rise 4.1% this holiday season, slower growth than in the past two years as mixed economic data and political uncertainty weigh on consumers, the world’s largest retail trade association said.

So the National Retail Federation says sales will be up, but will be up less than it was previously. Check.

Except that, on the plus side, things are improving. This from the Associated Press report on the NRF numbers:

Still, the forecast is higher than the average growth of 3.5% for November and December over the past 10 years. And it continues a growth trend that began after holiday sales fell 4.4% in 2008 during the middle of the recession. …

The federation’s forecast also is still more optimistic than the International Council of Shopping Centers, a mall trade group that last week said it predicts a 2.9% increase. It’s also higher than the 3.3% growth estimated by ShopperTrak, a Chicago-based analyzer of retail foot traffic, last month.

OK! Now we have a silver lining! Except this parenthetical aside in the AP writeup:

(The federation for the first time is counting online sales and sales from the auto parts and accessories business. It has revised every year’s forecast from 2000 to reflect the change.)

Furthermore, this:

“In all the years, this is the most challenging year doing a forecast,” said Matthew Shay, president and CEO of the National Retail Federation, based in Washington, D.C. “There are so many uncertainties.”

Oh … so wait, the NRF is admitting that these numbers are a moving target in all years and particularly hard to gauge in 2012. Um, OK…

So what’s the story here?

Is there a story?

Or are we just dumping more useless data out there into the bottomless pit of holiday nonsense that continues to kill any hopes I have of a quiet November, let alone December?

Yeesh. The saddest part is that we will continue to horserace retail stocks, retail news, consumer spending, and all manner of other holiday shenanigans right up until New Year’s.

To quote Chevy Chase: “Hallelujah, holy shit! Where’s the Tylenol?”

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Jeff Reeves is the editor of InvestorPlace.com and the author of “The Frugal Investor’s Guide to Finding Great Stocks.” Write him at editor@investorplace.com or follow him on Twitter via @JeffReevesIP. As of this writing, he did not own a position in any of the stocks named here.

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