* Nov.-Dec. sales seen up 4.1 pct vs 5.6 pct in 2011
* 'Fiscal cliff' weighing on consumers - NRF president
* Online sales seen up 12 percent - Shop.org
By Brad Dorfman
Oct 2 U.S. retail sales should rise 4.1 percent
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.
The forecast released on Tuesday by the National Retail
Federation puts sales at $586.1 billion in November and
December. The 4.1 percent growth forecast trails the 5.6 percent
growth seen in 2011 and 5.5 percent growth in 2010.
The NRF forecast is one of the closely watched benchmarks
for expectations ahead of the holiday season, which can account
for one-third of annual sales in many cases. With consumer
spending making up about 70 percent of the U.S. economy, the
holiday season is an important gauge as to whether the
slow-growing U.S. economy can shift into a higher gear.
The biggest things holding back consumers are uncertainty
over whether lawmakers can come to an agreement to avoid the
so-called "fiscal cliff" of across-the-board spending cuts set
for Jan. 2 as well as tax increases for all income groups.
"It's the uncertainty about where the economy is going, the
uncertainty at the federal level about the fiscal cliff, the
absence of a path forward from the president and the Congress,"
NRF President Matthew Shay said in an interview.
Recent signs on the economy have been mixed. On Friday, the
U.S. Department of Commerce said that personal income ticked up
0.1 percent, but was down 0.3 percent after accounting for
inflation and taxes - the first decline in real disposable
income since November.
Consumers have been hit by a rise in gasoline costs and
unemployment that remains above 8 percent.
But home values and the stock market have risen, helping
consumer confidence touch a four-month high in September.
The NRF forecast is more optimistic than some others already
released. Last month, research firm ShopperTrak forecast a 3.3
percent rise in sales for the holiday season, while the
International Council of Shopping Centers forecast a 2.5 percent
The NRF forecast includes most traditional retail categories
including non-store, auto parts and accessories stores,
discounters, department stores, grocery stores, and specialty
stores, and exclude sales at automotive dealers, gas stations,
Separately, Shop.org, forecast a 12 percent increase in
online holiday sales to a range of $92 billion to $96 billion
for the November-December period. The estimate is the NRF's
digital division's first forecast of online sales.