* 73 pct say fiscal cliff didn't affect holiday spending
* 57 pct spent same as they did in 2011-poll
* Dec. same-store sales view up 3.3 pct vs 4.2 pct yr ago
(Updates December same-store sales forecasts, adds details on
By Jessica Wohl
Jan 2 The "fiscal cliff" drama that dominated
the news and spooked businesses and financial markets did little
to dampen spending by U.S. shoppers this holiday season.
A new Reuters/Ipsos poll shows nearly three-quarters of
Americans said the debate around the fiscal cliff had no impact
on their holiday spending. Fewer than 20 percent of those polled
said they spent less during the season than they did in the 2011
holidays, according to the poll.
Holiday season sales overall - including December sales data
from several chains due this week - were likely good, but not
great. The expected rise in 2012 holiday spending is poised to
show the smallest year-over-year gain since the recession led to
a sales drop in 2008. Various estimates suggest that U.S. sales
in November and December combined grew at a low single-digit
pace, slower than in 2011 and 2010.
The fiscal cliff was a nearly constant topic in the news, as
the country waited to see if politicians in Washington would
reach a deal to avoid $600 billion in automatic spending cuts
and tax increases.
On Tuesday, the U.S. Congress approved a bill that would
raise taxes on the wealthy and preserve certain benefits. The
vote averted immediate pain like tax hikes for almost all U.S.
households, but did not resolve the issue of raising the federal
debt ceiling and fights over the budget in coming months.
Seventy-three percent of those polled in the final days of
December said concerns about the fiscal cliff did not affect
their holiday spending at all, according to findings from an
Ipsos poll conducted for Reuters. Back in mid-November, before
the holiday season kicked into full gear, 58 percent of those
polled had said the fiscal cliff was not affecting their holiday
Only 15 percent of those polled in late December said they
spent less during the 2012 holiday season because of the fiscal
cliff. In mid-November, 28 percent said that they planned to
spend less because of the fiscal cliff.
Fifty-seven percent of those polled said that they spent the
same amount on holiday shopping in 2012 that they did in 2011.
Nineteen percent said that they spent less than they did in
2011, while 17 percent said that they spent more.
The poll findings are from an Ipsos poll conducted for
Thomson Reuters from Dec. 27 to Dec. 31, with 765 American
adults interviewed online. Results are within the poll's
credibility intervals, a tool used to account for statistical
variation in Internet-based polling. The credibility interval
was plus or minus 4 percentage points.
The poll is the latest in a series that Ipsos conducted
during the holiday season.
COSTCO APPEARS STRONG, TARGET UNDER PRESSURE
Taking a look at various retailers, discount chains as a
group likely saw the strongest sales growth last month, while
profits at some retailers may have taken a hit from the need for
sharp discounts to clear merchandise from shelves.
"Value and promotions drove consumers to the malls,"
according to Jharonne Martis, director of consumer research for
Thomson Reuters. "Big discounts and promotions could cut into
retailers' profit margins."
Costco Wholesale Corp is expected to post a 6.5
percent rise in December same-store sales. While Costco holds
the highest estimate of any of the 17 chains included in the
Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S tally of analysts' forecasts, the
expectations are still below the 7 percent growth the chain
posted in December 2011.
Still, some analysts are concerned about how Target Corp
fared. The discount chain appeared to struggle with
efforts such as its highly touted collaboration of holiday gifts
with Neiman Marcus, which Target marked down by 50
percent even before Christmas. On Wednesday, the remaining goods
were marked down by 70 percent on Target's web site and by 50
percent on Neiman Marcus' site.
Target forecast a low single-digit percentage increase in
December same-store sales and analysts' average forecast was for
a 0.8 percent rise as of Wednesday. Jefferies analyst Daniel
Binder said he expects such sales were just flat to up 1
percent, while JP Morgan analyst Christopher Horvers cut his
expectation to a 0.5 percent increase after calling for a 2.5
Overall, analysts are looking for 3.3 percent same-store
sales growth for December across 17 chains, down from 4.2
percent growth in December 2011, according to Thomson Reuters
I/B/E/S. Such sales rose a disappointing 1.6 percent in
November. In December 2008, same-store sales fell 3 percent,
according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
"December's results will reflect a modest slowdown in
overall spending over the past two months ... but the world is
not ending," JP Morgan's Matthew Boss said in a note this week.
The weakest December same-store sales are expected to come
from teen apparel chain Wet Seal Inc.
Monthly same-store sales tallies exclude major players such
as Wal-Mart Stores Inc, Home Depot Inc and Best
Buy Co Inc, as well as online leader Amazon.com Inc
(Reporting by Jessica Wohl in Chicago; Editing by Phil
Berlowitz and Tim Dobbyn)