FACTBOX: Forecasts for dismal U.S. holiday sales

Sun Nov 23, 2008 4:15pm EST

(Reuters) - Americans expect to limit credit-card purchases, seek out bargains and stretch spending as recession fears put a damper on their holiday cheer.

With the United States grappling with its worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, retail experts predict this year will be one of the worst holiday shopping seasons in possibly two decades.

If the gloomiest predictions come true, that could spell disaster for many more store chains and their employees, and provide insight on how long it may take the economy to recover.

Below are some of the sales forecasts and surveys of consumer sentiment from leading industry groups:

* The National Retail Federation forecasts U.S. holiday sales in November and December to increase 2.2 percent in 2008 to $470.4 billion, according to an October 16 survey. The NRF sees consumers spending an average of $832.36 on holiday-related shopping, up 1.9 percent over last year, the lowest increase in planned consumer spending since the NRF's survey began in 2002. Nearly 70 percent of consumers said they planned to do some shopping at discount stores.

* The International Center for Shopping Centers cut its forecast for U.S. chain store holiday sales on November 6, predicting a rise of 1 percent versus a prior view of 1.7 percent growth, with discounters and wholesale clubs such as Wal-Mart and Costco likely to fare best as customers seek out lower priced items.

* America's Research Group found that nearly 89 percent of people surveyed planned to use more cash for buying holiday gifts this year, while almost 60 percent said they will use credit cards less, according to a survey conducted for Reuters that was released on November 10. One-third of survey respondents said they will go to liquidation sales this Christmas at bankrupt stores such as Linens n' Things Inc instead of the retailers they usually frequent. Around 65 percent plan to buy a few gifts each week and 31 percent said they started shopping early so they would not have a big bill in one month.

*The Reuters/University of Michigan Surveys of Consumers on November 14 said its index of U.S. consumer confidence edged up to 57.9 from 57.6 a month earlier, rebounding from a record drop the previous month. While tumbling gasoline prices helped prop up consumer confidence somewhat, the index remains below the lowest levels hit in the last two U.S. recessions.

* A Deloitte survey released on October 22 said around 53 percent of U.S. consumers expect the economy to weaken next year, compared with 43 percent of people who expressed that view last year. The study reflected the highest level of pessimism in more than 10 years. Almost six in 10 consumers said they would reduce spending this holiday season, and nearly seven in 10 said they would wait for store sales, cut back on shopping trips to save gasoline and use more store coupons.

(Compiled by Sarah Coffey, editing by Maureen Bavdek)

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