December US retail chain store sales outlook dims

NEW YORK, Dec 9 (Reuters) - December sales at U.S. retail chains will be weaker than expected as consumers await bigger discounts closer to Christmas to finish their holiday shopping, according to data released on Tuesday.

In the week after the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday, sales at chain stores open at least a year, or same-store sales, fell 0.8 percent according to the International Council of Shopping Centers and Goldman Sachs weekly sales index.

On a year-over-year basis, retail sales rose by 0.4 percent for the week ended Dec 6.

With lackluster shopper demand expected to prompt heavy discounting by retailers, the ICSC now expects December same-store sales to be flat to up 1 percent, compared with its previous forecast for sales to rise 1 percent.

“By having that range, we’re sending that signal that the bias is weaker,” said ICSC chief economist Michael Niemira of the updated December sales expectation.

Retailers are facing what could be the weakest holiday sales in nearly two decades as shoppers pull back on spending amid a year-long recession.

To entice shoppers to spend, retailers like Wal-Mart Stores Inc WMT.N, Kohl's Corp KSS.N and Macy's Inc M.N rolled out a plethora of deals and discounts over the Thanksgiving weekend, which marks the start of the holiday shopping season.

But once the weekend’s limited-time-only deals ended, shoppers retreated, and the ICSC said that over the last week, the “completion rate” of holiday gift-buying fell behind last year.

Shoppers are now expected to wait for even steeper price cuts closer to Christmas to finish holiday shopping, pressuring retailers’ already-thin profit margins. (Reporting by Nicole Maestri, editing by Matthew Lewis)