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Fuel costs seen cutting holiday spending
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The number of consumers expecting to cut holiday spending is at its highest level in recent years, with most citing high gasoline and home heating costs, according to an industry survey released on Monday.
But fewer consumers are saying they are concerned about making monthly payments on mortgage and consumer loans, despite a widespread subprime mortgage crisis that has resulted in a credit crunch.
The survey conducted by the Consumer Federation of America (CFA) and the Credit Union National Association (CUNA) found that 35 percent of U.S. adults surveyed plan to spend less during the holidays this year than the previous year, up from 32 percent last year.
"It suggests a number of U.S. households are feeling financially strapped and are looking for ways to cut spending," said CUNA Chief Economist Bill Hampel during a briefing.
"It will be a tough year for retailers."
The survey was conducted between November 8 and November 11 among more than 1,000 U.S. adults. Hampel said the percentage of Americans saying they plan to decrease holiday spending was at its highest level in the eight years the survey has been conducted.
Many consumers think a recession could be looming, according to a recent survey by America's Research Group. Analysts and investors are closely watching the holiday shopping season, which unofficially starts on Friday, to see if those fears play out.
The number of respondents who said the cost of gasoline and home heating would cause them to somewhat or greatly decrease their holiday spending also increased this year to 38 percent from 32 percent last year.
Oil prices have slid from an all-time high of $98.62 a barrel on November 9, but have been staying above $90 a barrel.
But fewer respondents said they were concerned about making monthly payments on mortgage and consumer loans, down to 40 percent this year from 43 percent last year.
Fewer consumers also said they were concerned about paying off credit card balances from holiday-related spending, down to 24 percent this year from 33 percent.
CFA Executive Director Stephen Brobeck said that most Americans carry low or sustainable debt levels and that despite the publicity of a mortgage crisis, a low percentage of Americans face a real threat of foreclosures on their homes.
The survey found that those saying they are most likely to cut spending are from lower-middle income households with incomes between $25,000 and $50,000. About 42 percent of this group responded that they are likely to cut holiday spending this year.
The percentage of consumers who said they planned to increase spending this year stayed the same from last year at 15 percent.
Also, more males than females said they are likely to increase spending.
Hampel said that respondents routinely say they plan to reduce spending, even though they don't, but that this year may be different as fuel costs have not been dropping since summer, and there is some overall fear in the credit market.
"You may see consumers actually living up to plans of spending less this year," he said.
(Editing by Dave Zimmerman)
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