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PSW 2011 Holiday Shopping Survey

Only 7 shopping days left!  

Next week is "Super Saturday" (they seem to just make this stuff up every year) but I was not overly impressed by the crowd at the Wayne Town Center Mall yesterday.  We were not even shopping, just picking up some cards and having lunch (the food court was packed). There were plenty of people, too be sure but, like us, they didn’t seem to be carrying very much actual stuff.  The clear exception, in my brief trip into the mall, was the Apple Store – where they couldn’t have packed more people in if they were just giving it all away – boxes were flying out of that place!  

As to the other stores, Tina no longer leaves the house to buy things for Christmas – AMZN ships everything for free (annual $79 Plus Membership, which includes movie rentals now) and has gift-wrapping and card-writing and often the best prices so it really doesn’t make sense not to use them.  

Personally, I can’t buy like that – I need to see things and I kind of like poking around stores and talking to people but, then again, I also pay the people in the mall to wrap my gifts as I’m sure as hell not going to spend a day doing that (and, despite having spent my 16th Christmas working at the Macy’s gift wrapping counter – I pretty much suck at it).  Fortunately, I’m grounded enough to know this is not how normal people behave – even in upscale North Jersey.  

Grounding ourselves is why these surveys are so valuable.  We have a lot of smart Members from all walks of life with combined centuries of experience – who better to ask about shopping conditions all over the country, and the World?  

The official estimate from the National Retail Federation is that there will be $469.1Bn (pretty exact for an estimate) spent this holiday season, which is an increase of 3.8% over last year, which was a 5.2% increase over 2009 ($437Bn), which really sucked!  Still, it did not suck so much that $469Bn is not an new record for Q4 shopping.

“After strong sales reports in October and November, along with a successful Black Friday weekend, retailers are cautiously optimistic that this season will turn out better than initially expected, bringing added stability to our recovering economy at a time when America needs it most,” NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay said. “However, a number of factors, including the debt crisis in Europe and continued political wrangling in Washington, could impact consumer spending this holiday season and into 2012.”

This is important stuff because 42M Americans work in 3.6M stores in America, a country that loves to shop.  In fact, we love it so much that gift cards are now one of the top holiday gifts so that other people can have the fun of shopping with your money.  Again, I’m old-fashioned and don’t feel like a gift card is a "real" gift but my kids actually put them on their Christmas list and this year they want cards from AMZN, Toys R Us and, most interestingly, the Itunes Store.  My kids are certainly not alone.  In a First Data survey:

  • When asked whether a recipient would rather get a $20 gift or a $25 gift card, 92 percent opted for the gift card
  • When asked whether a recipient would rather get a $25 gift or a $25 gift card, 87 percent opted for the gift card
  • When asked whether a recipient would rather get a $30 gift or a $25 gift card, 79 percent opted for the gift card
  • When asked whether a recipient would rather get a $45 gift or a $25 gift card, 52 percent opted for the gift card

I find the last item VERY interesting, 52% would rather get a gift card that’s half the value of an unknown gift – perhaps a good indication of how lousy people are at picking out good gifts for each other!  Still, we need to be careful when we hear about these trends as gift card sales are expected to be $28Bn this year, up significantly from $24.8Bn last year but representing just 6% of Holiday Sales. CSTR machines now interestingly pop out gift cards in exchange for your change.  To some extent, the rise of gift cards does shift that 6% off the holiday quarter and into Q1 as most retailers do not recognize the sale until the gift card is redeemed (despite the fact that they have the cash).  Also, despite all the fuss, on-line sales are still under 10% of all retail (good growth prospects for AMZN!) – here’s a good chart from last year:  

Still 10% of the sales on-line explains 4M jobs going away (as does inflation meaning less stuff is being sold for more money).  Amazon only employs 33,700 people to replace 4M retail sales associates – now that’s efficiency!  Also, you would think that’s not so good for the REITs, and we have a massive, empty, $2Bn mall right here in New Jersey that proves you don’t have to go to China to find very poorly thought out planning projects.  What was originally aptly named Xanadu has now been horrifically and ironically been renamed "The American Dream" and is now scheduled to finally open in late 2013 – a full decade after this nightmare began!

I’d like to hear about your own shopping experiences and I’d really like to hear from people who own stores.  According to the National Retail Association, most shoppers are only half done with Christmas shopping.  That seems crazy but they said the same thing least year and they were right and this year we have an extra day so I guess it’s going to be a crazy week in the malls.  The Retail stores are open all kinds of crazy hours this weekend so staffing costs will be high and I do hope it works out for them, for all our sakes!  

It’s very hard to get a good read from the news because they are paid by retail advertisers to encourage you to shop so they’re not going to interview a store owner who says "This is the worst holiday ever, I’m thinking of setting fire to the store for the insurance money."  No, all you hear is the good stuff but we need to know what’s real so we can make good investing decisions so if you are in retail, or know anyone in retail – please help us out and let’s try to get some good numbers (comparisons to last year and "normal" years, etc.) in our last week of shopping.

If you are out shopping, all you have to do is keep your eyes open when you go to the stores, not just as to whether they are busy but as to whether people are actually buying thing and what kind of things they are buying – then just tell us what you saw.

Obviously, we care the most about stores we can invest in but general observations are good too.  This is going to be make or break for the holidays but I think a lot of high expectations are already built in and this survey is a great way for us to gian insight as to what’s hot and what’s not around the country.

Try to include the symbols for the companies you discuss and be sure to give us a good idea, geographically of where you are shopping. Last year we got a great picture of what was going on in the country and it kept us from falling for the media hype about holiday shopping last year.

Only by comparing many people’s experiences can we begin to get a good picture of the retail situation in this country, Thanks!

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  1. Here in the Dominican Republic a young Haitian woman of my aquaintance is excited because her father is going to give her a female goat, and she is expecting it to give her several kids plus milk. Unfortunately there is not much of a market in goat feed or accessories as they will eat anything. She also wants a blackberry.

  2. A goat can be a good investment, but like any market, you need to know what you are doing, as not all breeds of goats are the same. Black ones and white ones, I am told, give more milk than the brown ones and the value will also depend on the size of the goat and the "race" or breed of the goat. A decent sized best-of-breed goat of a desirable color can be sold in Haiti for about $130. Any father wanting to teach his children about investment, capital, and dividends could do worse that give his teenager a goat under the Christmas tree this holiday season. At least they will not have to worry about disposing of the tree.
    It is extremely important to keep the goat on your own family property and not to invest in goat futures held by a goat broker. If you own title to a goat in a herd, but do not have physical possession of the goat, in the event of the herd of goats being attacked by wolves, or goat rustlers your piece of paper will be worthless.

  3. jmm..Instead of a BB please tell her I will give 15 shares of RIMM for the goat!! I’ve been trying to have a kid for 8 months, sounds like that goat is very virile.

    Boca, Delray, always packed. I must say most are in a jolly mood. With that said I can still buy a house down here fairly cheap and there are lots of people with assets looking for hard money. If everything goes well I will be giving a loan to a gentleman of 350k at 12%/2y and his collateral, a strip mall in Tennessee worth 650k he payed 1.3m in 2004 (being verified). Unfortunately he has 1 property here in Delray thats going into foreclosure. Trying to get the bank to short sell on the cheap to me. The guy still drives a new Mercedes and is going to Paraguay for vacation…how wonderful is that!

    This point is very important…
    The guy I mentioned above had half of the building rented (Delray) and when the tenant found out he was having trouble with the bank, they stopped paying rent!! For 8 months now. I think its impossible to gauge the economy
    properly since I believe this is wide spread.

  4. Jmm, where you live in DominicanRepublic?

  5. Cabarete

  6. kustomz/rent strike
    I have a suspicion that we may be moving away from a credit economy in the US towards more of a cash based economy, and therefore both individuals and businesses may feel that they may as well free themselves from the shackles of a credit rating, since even after bankruptcy, it can be recovered in a few years if desired. Once people stop caring about their credit rating, they will stop making payments if it seems advantageous. The result of Wall Street shenanigans like the collapse of MF Global is that more and more people see the advantage of getting their retaliation in first, as this is what the pros are perceived to do. Example, American Airlines filing for BK to get out of employee contracts and pension commitments.
    Even if this perception is not entirely correct the Tea Party movement shows that there is considerable public sentiment in favor of both governments and individuals and businesses reverting to  living within their means. My parents ran a number of successful businesses in the 50′s and 60′s (minimarket, butcher’s, antiques shop, real estate trading) and would never have DREAMED of using borrowed money other than a mortgage on the house they lived in.
    When my middle sister and her husband got married, they lived in a small cottage with no furniture whatsoever other than a bed and a basic table and chairs until they had saved enough to purchase some good quality furniture, about 3 years. My brother-in-law raised sheep and hens, had the lambs butchered by his brother and swapped some of the meat for pork and beef, so they never, ever had to buy meat. He bought a new Mercedes and sold it after 3 years with only  2,600 miles on the clock as he did not think it was cost effective and my sister could walk to the supermarket for groceries and get exercise at the same time.
    They are somewhat secretive (as misers often are), but now are reputed to be the wealthiest residents of the town where they live and own more than 20 houses that are all paid for. They skipped my mother’s funeral 10 years ago, because they had a prepaid vacation and did not want to pay a surcharge to change their flight dates.

  7. Very nice place, surfers paradise.

  8.  Oil: I find it confusing.  This, from FT: "The Brent benchmark has been in backwardation since February when the Libyan revolution broke out, depriving the market of 1.6m barrels a day of supplies, but this week the price difference between oil for delivery next month and for delivery the following month tripled to 45 cents a barrel.  “Clearly the physical market is still quite tight,” said James Zhang, oil analyst at Standard Bank."

  9. jmm. Sounds like the Baltic states in Europe. Huge underground economy. Gov’s are cracking down as they cant get a piece of the action except of course for the crooked politicians. Cash is king but credit is still plentiful for low ticket items.

    In 08 I wanted to buy farm land in Europe. Someone from Germany got wind of this and sent me a warning, walk away while you still have legs. Guess what, I ran! In certain parts of Europe you can have a funeral for about 2k Euro..of course it would be an unmarked grave so whats the sense.

  10. kustomz, you are total idiot. If you dont know nothing, do not show off you stupidity.

  11. pahurik, If I offended you in anyway I must apologize. If there is anything that you feel I miss represented then please state your case. If you have a personal issue, I will be more than happy to share my email. I feel there should be a level of respect among us. If you feel differently there is an ignore this user option.

  12. Kustomz, which East Europe and Baltic states you are visited and do business? We have more economic freedom then most of world countries.  I personally do not care you incorrect worldview, but may be many people  feel flame. For example:

  13.  Phil — in Seattle — I went to the mall though I go at a time specifically to avoid people. So the mall closes at 11 PM and we were there at 9:45. My wife and just bought a house so we kept spending down, just drifted from store to store browsing really. Every store was loosing money. There was no need to be open past 10 PM, the place was dead, and this is the last shopping weekend before XMas?!?
    I talked with the security guard in the foodcourt (bored out of his mind) watching 6 people eat. He said they expected to staff up after Black Friday for the holiday and never did; no need too, so maybe it’s not just a quiet Saturday night, after all, may a quiet season….

  14. pahurik, Seems to me you assume much while knowing very little. The right response for you would have been to post the above question before insinuating that I am somehow an "idiot, know nothing and reveal my stupidity"  far too easily that even you could pick up on it!!! 8-)

    I was brought up to never ask a fellow man, what he does for work, his religion, his political affiliation and never ever assume to know where a fellow is from. The area I spoke of is Serbia. The exact area in Serbia is a town called Plandiste. I had the same issue in Montenegro. 

    In the future keep your opinions to yourself if they evoke a lashing out of the kind you demonstrated above for reasons you just represented. You dont have legs to stand on in this exchange. I think you and I should stick to small talk like, hows the weather?

    And here I was thinking it was the comment about trading RIMM shares for a goat!! Hey at least you have a sense of humor.

  15. From Atlanta:
    As late as last Tue (12/13), the Macy’s in the money end of town (north end) was significantly less patronized than last year and, per sales folks, than in recent memory. Parking spaces and sales associates readily idle and available. However, as of Friday, 12/16, surface street traffic congestion around malls was reported to be much heavier – so a mixed report.

  16. stupid is as stupid does . . .
    "I messed up. I owe everyone an explanation,"

  17. Kustomz, Baltic is not Balkan.  Its same if yoy speak about Mexico, but write Canada, no problem, same America.  Should  shame be to stupid in geography. Peace!

  18. We went to a nice mall in Ft. Myers Friday. There was a live band as an attraction, and from my rough estimate more people were sitting in the chairs listening to the band than were shopping. Note to storekeepers: Next time, skip the chairs. Williams-Sonoma was as busy as ever, despite the outrageous prices, and there was at least some buying going on. Brookstone used to be my favorite mall store since they are one of the few that doesn’t sell women’s items. I don’t know if they are a stock, but it is now time to short them. The stuff in the store looks pretty tired and uninteresting. For the 15 minutes I hid in there I saw more clerks than customers, and nobody bought anything. It was late afternoon, and it seems as if the restaurants were doing big business while the stores were pretty light. Happy Hour is still a big draw, even though these days it is Happy Three Hours, every day, not just Friday.
    We do almost all our shopping on-line, with no sales tax and free shipping. If they ever wind up taxing such sales, it will make a big dent in them. Hey, it moves and they havent figured out how to tax it yet? Amazing.

  19. pahurik, Yes Balkan not Baltic. My apology stands, Ive got Baltic on the brain. No offence to the fine people of the Baltics.
    Peace? Sure but, one misrepresentation and its on!! ;-)

  20. Yeah, sorry that I exited. Next drink at my expense :P

  21. this is a bit of a personal anecdote but……..materialism is not really my thing although i love to trade and learn which may seem a bit odd, and i like nice things too. i just found i really don’t need a lot.
    i have had several careers from capital raising to art design to research/education/trading.
    i lived and worked in the US for the better part of 10 years when i had my thing in design and sold my work to stores like Barneys and Neiman Marcus and Simon Pierce and Kate’s Papery among a whole host of other smaller retailers so got to know a lot about  the business from retailers’ side. i had to because i was selling to retailers.
    i think what i learned was retail was a tough business, and tougher if there are more people like me around who maybe think having a lot of things is also just a lot of things that have to be dusted, insured or put away some place and stored for years or looked after day to day or polished or whatever.
    i guess i find the whole consumer thing just way over the top and have for quite a while too.
    minimalism works. kindness and generosity works. honesty also works where it can be found.
    i knew Constance Kay. she had an art card design business with 1000s of handmade cards with fantastic original designs by individual American artists for all occasions (made in America) and did very very well with it.

  22. Domincan Republic shopping report’
    Spoke today to a guy from New York who has a local store. He offered me a new in-the-box iPhone 4g (AAPL) for $350, but what was more interesting was that he told me he had 15 of the new iPhones and was not able to sell any of them, even though he had them on display in 3 or 4 local stores. People liked them, but they simply could not afford them. Eventually he shipped them back to New York to sell them there. He also told me that a lot of the new iPhones are being returned due to quality problems. I don’t know how true this is.
    Well, the DR is not the US, but I think that the iPhones are very expensive when compared to to the iPod Touch, which I have, which is to all intents the same device, except that it has no SIM card for making and receiving calls. However I can use it to make Skype calls via Wi-Fi and with a battery powered Internet modem. Not very convenient, but it does seem to me that for the non business user,  having an iPod to play music, use as a camera, or surf the net, plus a cheap phone to make calls is a much more economical alternative for the cost conscious than buying  a very expensive iPhone or taking out an expensive contract.  While this won’t limit the affluent, it may put something of a cap on sales overall, particularly with younger cell phone users.

  23. barfinger/sales taxes
    We do almost all our shopping on-line, with no sales tax and free shipping. If they ever wind up taxing such sales, it will make a big dent in them. Hey, it moves and they havent figured out how to tax it yet? Amazing.
    I think they have figured it out, but the Supreme Court in its infinite wisdom has decided that mail order businesses should not have to pay state sales taxes unless they are based in the state where the merchandise is being sent to. I’m not sure of the logic of this, but it is based on some obscure US  legal tradition. Certainly Amazon has to charge consumers  sales taxes in Canada, or VAT in Europe and they do so without much protest on either side.
    The answer is simple enough. Congress has to pass a law that will override the Supreme Court on this issue. Now whether Congress WANTS to do this is entirely another matter. You would think that with the States in a desperate situation for tax revenue, they would want to, but on the other hand there is also a strong anarchist movement that believes that all Government programs should be abolished. Which side will win?

  24. Wife says Wellington mall has the usual weekend Traffic. I went to Sears for my male gift ideas and nothing but crickets.

    pahurik, water under the internet bridge.

  25. Not sure where 1020 has been going, but our neck of the woods has been pretty dead.  Mall in Carlsbad was empty at 10:30ish on Sunday, but Costco and Target have been crazy buzy.  Now, I think those two stores where we are are the exceptions to the a rule, as I believe these two places are the ‘best’ stores the companies have!  Other areas have been less traveled, and a few of the ‘off’ stores that are not chains have noted that they are not crazy busy like last year.  I dunno, I would like to hear about the midwest…

  26.  I miss  Cabarete, I learned to kiteboard there a few years ago.  Too humid for me all year, but a great place to visit!

  27. Here is a report from the upper Midwest ( MN). Target ( local favortite) and Costco have been busy, Target more so, seems like some people use Costco for cheap gas. Best Buy & Home Depot were quiet, Malls have pretty full parking lots- Many people out enjoying the fall like weather. Retailers can not blame the weather here for once. I’m pretty pleased with an early present. I came home Friday to a Vinotemp kegerator. This could be dangerous!

  28. Back from NYC.  Holiday activity was high, Rock Center packed, Bryant Park packed, restaurants packed but streets not crowded at all (was the first cold weekend but that shouldn’t stop New Yorkers) and stores not busy for a normal day, let alone Christmas.  Everyone is eating but no bags – very strange.  Didn’t go to any normal stores, there are about 100 specialty kiosks in Bryant Park and we had lunch, skated and visited all the little shops.  Earlier we had intended to go to times square but Carmines was sold out all day as was the Hard Rock and the kids were hungry so we headed up there and had a great lunch at Celsius outside under heat lamps above the skaters – very nice way to spend an afternoon.  Found lots of cool little gifts too but even the winter shops were not very crowded – even with about 1,000 people hanging around the ice rings.  

    My conclusion so far – people are just cutting back on gifts this year – leaving them more money to go out.  We’ll see what happens but I think that some of that 50% of the business they are counting on this week doesn’t show up.  

    Meanwhile, Dear Leader has died and that shot the Dollar back to 81 and knocked the futures down half a point.  Asia is down more like 2% as no one is please with Jr. taking over in South Korea.  I always find that amusing when leaders who are hated die and the markets react negatively – as if the next guy could be worse.  Markets just hate uncertainty but China is in charge of N. Korea – I doubt Kim’s son is going to suddenly declare war or whatever it is people are worried about.  He’s just 27 and probably not suicidal.

    If anything (but I’m going to bed), I’d take oil long off the $93 line (/CL), which is where we liked them Friday.  Gold already zoomed back to $1,600 and has been rejected there so far and the Dollar doesn’t look that strong above 81 so far.  

  29.  S&P is 1,204 so below 1,200 is bad and the RUT is just under 715 and, if they don’t break over, there’s no point in being bullish on oil (or anything else).   Dollar below 81 and RUT over 715 should confirm the oil play.  

  30. Kustomz- you learned a valuable lesson, don’t mess with pahurik’s authority in all matters in eastern Europe and Russia…He is the only member with knowledge of these areas. I made the mistake of commenting on Estonia’s stupidity for removing a statue dedicated to Russian troops who fought against the Nazis and he brought the verbal assault against me as well…

    Shopping- I’m back in WA for 5 days and in Seattle/the suburbs traffic seems to be robust. Skagit Valley, my home (a more rural area about 60 miles north of Seattle) is hurting and traffic seems to be down significantly…

  31. Home Depot is one of my frequent and favorite places,I have talked with the clerical staff at a number of the locations around the Puget Sound (Seattle Area).  Seems sales are not as good as last year and the day after Thanksgiving their volumn was off from last year also. Saying that, the construction trade has picked up a little the last couple of months per the statements of the trades people, and that is incongruent with the Home Depot clerical comments.  Costco on the eastside of Lake Washington was crazy busy the last several weekends, but this weekend it seemed there weren’t that many customers.  Time will tell.  Restaurants are busy but one of our favorite steak restaurants had tables immediately available last week end—usually they have two hour waits.  …for what it is worth.  I enjoy the local flavor comments.  Merry Christmas to all.

  32. Not that much shopping going on in Venice, CA, from what I could see. Only place I noticed that was extra busy was GAP which had a 40% mark down on everything.

  33. I’m in Vegas. Lots of people but not many carrying shopping bags in bellagio or ceasars malls

  34. Good morning!  

    Oil topped out at $94.50 but, if that’s the only trade we find, it’s a good one at $1,500 per contract!   Dollar broke the line at 11:50 – If I had just stayed up another half hour, I could have caught it myself but, c’est la vie.  As usual – I’m sure we’ll find something else to trade!  

    Dollar held 80.80 (not good) and now 80.75 with oil at $94.20, gold $1,585 (never made a serious move over $1,600 – despite the oil run), silver $28.97, copper $3.30 (below that is bad Global economy indicator), nat gas $3.07 (below $3 same bad) and gasoline $2.5194 – still a winner over our $2.50 line).

    The Euro topped out at $1.304 at Sunday’s open, fell to $1.298 when the Dollar topped out at about 11:30 last night, made a run back to $1.303 and double topped there, now back to test the line at $1.3008.  The Pound is below their safe line at $1.5497 and the Yen topped out at 78.16 at about 11:20, fell to the 77.80 line at 3am and now 77.90 and we know Japan really wants to defend 78 so they’ll be pushing to hold 78.80 on the Dollar.  

    EUR/CHF is interesting this morning as it fell to 1.2185, indicating the drop in the Euro was sudden and unexpected, even to the Swiss (who want more Francs to the Euro) so we can expect $1.30 to be vigorously defended.  That means the Swiss and Japan are at odds today but I’ll bet on Switzerland in a currency war because the BOJ has simply botched all of their attempts to control things this year while the Swiss run their manipulation schemes like clockwork.  

    So, if we assume the Euro holds $1.30 then we can assume the Dollar will not go over 81 again and that will give the markets a chance to do whatever they want to do without getting adjusted by the Dollar and I’m pretty sure they want to go up – despite the death of Kim Jung Il, which I suppose we’re just all going to have to get over somehow…

    It’s a little late to chase futures now, I’ll be going over the news in the morning post but we’ll be looking for Friday Morning’s highs to be broken if we’re going to get bullish – otherwise this is all just pre-market BS (up about half a point at the moment). 


  35. I am in small town Knoxville (compared to some of the other guys here), and was at the Lowes this past weekend.  They were still trying to get rid of their Black Friday deals, at the same price and some even cheaper.  There were mounds and mounds of items that did not get bought on Black Friday.  I was able to negotiate a $200 tool set for my brother down to $40. Seems like they were hard off for business IMO.

  36. went shopping this weekend in suburb of Cleveland—-high end malls and shops were crowded (no hardship here)—-lines were long parking was a problem —tempers were flaring—-but Costco and Best Buy were not as crowded , was able to get in and out relatively easily

  37. Observations from the weekend….. locally – Wilmington, DE – was at old-style shopping center w/ Sears, JCP, etc., on Thursday night. It was barren. In NYC for the weekend and saw plenty of people on the streets and subway carrying more than they could reasonably handle. Was in an out of a lot of "normal" stores – both high end and not-so-high-end and traffic was brisk and people did appear to be buying. One place in particular – Century 21 (not the real estate guys) was a mob scene. They sell discounted top designer brands. People were carting baskets full of items all over the store and checkout lines reflected the # of deal seekers. 
    The drive home presented another view again… drove past local Walmart and parking lot was overflowing into adjacent office park. Passed about 10 Christmas tree vendors who appear to be on the verge of taking it on the nose with large inventories remaining with a week to go. 

  38. Traffic at my restaurant in Vegas seems to be up over last year however the mix has shifted to small group reservations from holiday banuet bookings, with almost no company christmas parties (ie. company paid).   People are trying their best to stay connected but clearly there is very little christmas spirit in the air in Vegas (arguably ground zero for all ills in this recession).  Casino take is up single digits y/o/y however hiring growth is nonexistent.  Local economy seems to have bottomed and people are starting to come out of their hunkered down state and acting less depressed (in our place people drink more when they are happy and stay home when they’re depressed…contrary to popular lore).  I’m starting to bottom-fish on the local real estate market, expecting no more than 5-10% downside next year with equal odds of a flat year.  So, there is a large overhang, both in christmas spirit, economic activity and real estate prices but clearly the worst is over in Vegas and the anemic recovery is beginning to appear here.

  39. Portland, OR
    regular malls in the city were packed to capacity, Santa busy but not very large bags…Macy’s packed seeming people buying, Best Buy and IKEA also jammed…My guess is a decent shopping crowd this was this past weekend.

  40. Streets are emty in eastern Idaho and western Wyoming. You can park at front door. University of Utah nuroscience clnic had no christmas showing. Lowest traffic I have ever seen in Salt Lake, many closed shops, even Micky Ds empty lot at noon.

  41. Here in Hong Kong there are not many locals carrying big bags, but thousands of mainland Chinese tourists doing a bit of buying. Seems about the same as last year. Apple store filled. Seems they are looking for that one high end item, and getting some comfort items harder to come by up North. The usual shortages of baby formula ect, as the Mainlanders stock up. They obviously don’t trust what they are getting North of here. Not much traffic on mid-priced items.

  42. In vancouver, I went in to an apple store, turned around and left because of the lines — other stores not so busy but not empty either.
    In Palm Springs now for the holidays, stores are so so but restaurants seem to be hurting — perhaps because holiday traffic is not here yet, not sure how seasonal PS is.

  43. Went to IKEA and the International Mall here in Tampa yesterday, shopping with my daughter. IKEA was not half full, and the mall was no busier than a normal Saturday. Apple and the Pandora Stores were very busy, but Dillards, Nordstrom, Ann Taylor, did not appear busy.

  44.  Something is very weird with the comments today, they start with Jmm and his goat on Dec. 18th, and cascade down to the 23d — am I the only one seeing this?

  45.  Sorry, I’m an imbecile, didn’t realize this was a "shopping survey."  My kids all wanted iPads; considering they’re all 10 and under, I suppose that bodes well for Apple’s future.  We play iPad hand-me-down, gives parents an excuse to upgrade.  Brookstone was the favorite this year: lots of cheap, attractive gadgets, since quantity counts over quality when Santa starts giving stuff out, and that Quad-helicopter really is cool, although I couldn’t fit it in my suitcase.  So tech and clothes were the top picks.

  46. The view from London
    I’m seeing ALOT of shops starting their sales early.  Clothing stores seem to be suffering with people appearing to wait for the post Christmas sales.
    I work next to the Ab & Fitch store which previously has had queues of crazed teenage girls outside but again, its busy but not crazy busy.
    Both Apple stores are filled with people but not everyone has bags.
    Generally Oxford Street and west london in general seem a bit quiet.  Our Westfield malls (newest opening next to our recently completed Olympic park) are by all accounts crazy busy.  I’m afriad I have not dared go out their as those places drive me nuts!
    Happy holidays and bring on the Berkshire.

  47. Phil Happy Holidays and thanks for the help this year
    Happy Holidays to all the members

  48. Palm Springs,
    Something to note here – I was in a men’s clothing store here and they had just ‘Opened" in Sept — I cannot recall the last time I have heard of a business opening!!!!

  49. Greetings my PSW friends — I wish I had more US comments, but we’re spending the holidays in the Far East.  Although, before we left last week, my wife tells that "the 1% are out in force" in the high-end stores in Beverly Hills, like Barney’s, which was "a madhouse."  Although she also noted that that may have been because of their "second mark-down" of the month.  But the merch is moving. Anyway, Hong Kong was very vibrant and busy.  Then, on to Siem Reap, Cambodia.  Did you know that all they use in Cambodia are U.S. dollars?  And they want crisp, new ones.  I mean if you give them a worn one, with a slight tear or something, they will say "do you have a better one?"  There is a local currency, but they want none of it.  Very cheap place to visit.  Now we’re in Hoi An, Vietnam, which is near Da Nang.  And the dollar buys 21,000 dong!  I’ll check out the shopping later.  Hanoi on Tuesday.  Trading the US markets from here is from 9:30 pm to 4 am!  Rough.  Happy Holidays to all.

  50. France ( near Toulouse): Have to say that despite the “crise economiqe” the stores and markets this week seem very busy, from a visitors perspective. Those we know here are very concerned about the economy and have had a business slowdown. McDonalds is building some very nice restaurants ( which are packed), free WiFi for us is reason to be here. Happy Holidays to all at PSW!

  51.  View in Minnesota:
    Yesterday I went to the local mall to do my last minute xmas shopping. Throughout the year I try to stay as far away from malls and shopping centers, so I can’t speak to the volume of shoppers on a typical day. However,the place was been packed. Parking was horrendous and what should be a 5 minute entry ended up taking me around 20-25 mins (I’m getting annoyed just thinking about it). I went to Macy’s to purchase some perfume. They had tons of items marked 40%-50% down. The stores were loaded with people holding multiple bags and I noticed that even the gift wrapping kiosk was fully staffed and busy. In what I was expecting to be a quick in and out 15 minute trip ended up costing me well over an hour to purchase 1 item. The Mall of America is about an hour away and I have heard from a friend working there that the place is also crazy busy, the hell if I’m driving an hour to waste time at that zoo! Just my perspective from the area. Merry X-mas to everyone at PSW!

  52.  Poughkeepsie, New York (2 hours north of NYC) on Christmas Eve morning:
    I ran out to get a hair cut at 9 AM and went through two strip malls near our house that are usually packed the last week before Christmas.  I went to TJ Maxx, The Dollar Store and Barnes and Noble to get a few stocking stuffers (bought all the major stuff on-line through Amazon this year as I hate the mall.)  It seemed like a normal somewhat busy Saturday shopping day.  It is a very warm and sunny day here, no snow on the ground yet, and usually I have a hard time getting any parking in the places near our house.  Unless people are more organized this year, it looks like a low shopping day to me.
    I can also note that holiday donations were down at the homeless shelter where I work.  Our usual supporters brought the stuff we need, like McDonalds gifts cards and so on, but usually we get so inundated with clothes, coats and stuff that we can’t deal with the volume and call Salvation Army to come cart it all off.  It was noticeably lighter this year, which was a relief.  (Most charities prefer catch which can go for what we need, when we need it, rather than bulk stuff that takes up a ton of storage.  Food banks are probably different.)  
    Happy Holidays to everyone!  Peace to you in the New Year!

  53. escohen5 – sounds like a great trip.  did you go to Angor Wat?  I hope to get to Cambodia next year.  spent 4 weeks in Asia this year and love the region.  

  54.  Just back from the mall in New Orleans:
    First blush seems very good.  Insane parking lots!  Spent 20 minutes getting a spot.  The view inside was more mixed.  Crowds, but not tons of shopping bags.  Many people, like me, had just 1 not-stuffed shopping bag.  MANY stores with major sales.  40% off… even 50% off at coldwater creek (the least busy store).  Also empty, surprisingly, Abercrombie and Fitch.  Only the Apple store and the food court were doing what I would call a brisk business.
    But keep in mind that this town marches to it’s own beat!

  55.  Terrapin —  Yes, we visited both Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom, and some other temples as well.  Probably every tourist who goes to Siem Reap — or who goes to Cambodia in general, goes there.  Beautiful!  What a civilization that must have been, to build those things.  They are true world treasures, and the Cambodians are doing everything they can, it appears, to protect them and restore them.  They are huge.  They were abandoned and forgotten for centuries.  Our guide said that when they were re-discovered about 100 years ago, it took three years just to clear the trees and vegetation from Angkor Wat, so that it could be seen and appreciated.  We go to My Son today (near Hoi An), to see more old temples….at least the ones that are standing after the bombing 40 years ago.

  56. Sobering thought.
    The other day I found in a safe I used for one of my closed down businesses the total amount of 32,800.00 Mexican pesos.
    The date was, in which the little bags were holding the money went back to July 2009. Great you think you found some extra funds.
    However In July 2009 I would have received 2733.00 US$, today it is reduced to 2,342.00 well you say so what 400$ US short.
    If I would have bought gold in July 2009 for 2,733.00 I would have 5,096.00 US$ in my pocket today meaning that the 32,800 pesos are now only 16,400.00, two and a half year later.
    That is a Christmas story about paper money.
    Happy Christmas

  57. I had to go to Ridgewood, NJ to pick some stuff up on Christmas eve and it was nice so Jackie and I walked around town in the afternoon.  Ridgewood is ranked #26 as one of the best places to live in America (small towns) and is, indeed a lovely town.  Unfortunately, it is not so lovely if you were a retail merchant on Christmas Eve – the town was dead and, even more disturbing, there was A LOT of empty retail space – a shocking amount as I used to go to Ridgewood often and would rarely see a store and I always notice because it’s a town I’ve considered having a business in as well as living.  

    They just rezoned to allow fast food in town – a very bad sign as that was one of the things that made it nice.   The town has a commuter train station to NYC but even next to the station, there were a couple of empty stores..  

    New York City also still has many, many vacancies.  On the one hand, it’s a fantastic time to start a business (see Build a Berkshire Workshop) but, on the other hand, I think we need to start looking at some of these CRE statistics and see if we’re still in a downtrend.  

    Keep in mind a lot of retailers will "hang on" through Christmas but its possible that some of the remaining stores haven’t paid their rent for 3 months and there will be many more "space for rent" signs in the spring.  

    If anyone knows Realtors or people in that end of the business – I’d love to hear what they have to say from different parts of the country. 

  58. Was out working today- taking advantage of some time available and light traffic to get around easily. Looking at possible jobs- my business is construction / R&R related – commercial/restaurants. Some uptick in requests for quotes but not anything significant. Purely anecdotal but also noticed a seeming plethora of empty commercial and office space- N/W Indiana and west Chicago suburbs. I would characterize these locations as middle to upper middle class communities.

  59. Yodi- a related sobering thought on currency devaluation. I had a conversation at a Holiday gathering with the owner of a chain of restaurants. He related how he opened his first location in 1970 for about $7000. In 2011 dollars , that would be approximately $40,000. More sobering- the initial fixed capital required to open an equivalent store today is nearly $250,000. The difference? Mandated equipment specifications (NSF certification); mandated health/building codes, etc.
    You can fill in the blanks on the rest of the story.

  60. Phil……Happy Holdays (from on the road) to all.  
    Farmers and Merchants Bank in california has been very well run by the Walker Family for many many years. Commercial real estate is a significant/majority of their commercial/private loans.   Highly respected bank here in the west.  Did not get caught up in the financial meltdown and mistakes that has taken down so many institutions.  They also advise us in directing our corporate retirement funds.   I can say they have been telling us for some time the rate of commercial loan defaults and vacancies in their commercial buildings has not stopped accelerating.  Federal bank regulators have not helped.  F&M were re negotiating a significant portion of their commercial loans in house to head off potential defalts.  Regulators have brought that process to a trickle. 

  61. I live in Austin, and have several real estate friends and was a builder here for 20 years till I moved to Costa Rica and started a beach house vacation rental business about 10 years ago. The recession (since ’08) hasn’t been bad for the Austin real estate market.  I’m not too sure about the new home market, but I know the resale mkt has held up pretty well.  Down about 15% at the worst in ’09/’10, but this year it’s back up to near where it was in ’07.  The job mkt has held up well, with lots of newcomers getting work and thus the real estate mkt has held up as well.  The rental mkt is tight, real tight.  I sold my home in ’09, expecting a much bigger downturn in real estate than we got here.  the plan was to rent tll the bottom and then buy at a super low mortgage rate and at a fire sale price. Well it didn’t happen, at least not here, and so I’ve been in the rental mkt, and I know first hand that rents are going up and it’s hard to find a decent 3/2 for reasonable rent.  Retail has been slow this Christmas.  Not  as much action at the malls as normal, although I’m more in tune with the scene in Costa Rica than here in Austin. 
    The Costa Rican economy is directly tied to tourism.  Tourism is down big time since ’07, and so is everything else there.  Real estate mkt has tanked.  I’m trying to sell a beach house.  Probably the best location in the country for a nature lover to have a vacation home, and no luck for 6mo.  Retail has followed.  My taxi driver friends in San Jose tell me it’s down 20% from last year, but they are the most  pessamistic group of people you’ll ever meet.  The real number is probably 5%.  They’re so into complaining that in the morning you’ll get in a cab and the cabby will complain about how cold it is.  By noon, he’s starting to complain about how hot it is,   Ha Ha!
    Well, that’s my report.  Sorry it’s a bit downbeat.  Personally, I’ve had a blast since I joined this group a month ago, as well as having paid for the egg mc muffins for the next year.  God bless you all.

  62. Phil/realtors- my closest friend is an agent in Vegas. He works on flipping short sales or foreclosures for individuals or groups with a minimum of 250k… He was making good money but now the market has been saturated with buyers and people are over-paying for the auctions…Banks still have a ton of inventory but it isn’t getting released. He does believe there is a decent opportunity in buying houses for rentals and getting section 8 tenants in there….

  63.  London A&F Flagship UK Store
    People are queuing out the door and around the corner of the store.
    Can anyone explain the attraction as £70 for a polo shirt seems a tad nuts to me.

  64. Pre Christmas

    At our local mall in Natick, Ma. (18mi w of Boston) foot traffic was brisk but not hectic. Lots of people but less bags. 40 -50- 60 % discounts on entire store contents was common. Found this different from last year where pre Christmas sales was only select merchandise. Parking was generally impossible and it seemed tempers were much shorter and hotter this year.

    Small lines at the Santa Tree where children make their Christmas wishes.
    Kiosks down the center of the mall were fewer than last year but seemed like they had a steady flow of customers.

    Macy’s "M" was very busy – and people were buying. Constant discount coupons in the mail and they seem to work well – I’m always on the look out for them.
    Good quality and name brand merchandise can be had at nice discounts and generally good selection and quantities. (50% off is common)
    Neiman Marcus? and JWN did not seem as busy in comparison to M.

    Went by the Micheal Kors store several times and from what I saw I’d be shorting the recent run up in the high end pocket book IPO. In contrast COH at least had people roaming around the store.

    I know SHLD, has taken a beating recently and I think  it is just not marketing itself well.
    I purchased a tool box on line, was able to take advantage of online discounts, check various store inventories, arrange a self pick up at that store by sliding my credit card thru a machine that ID’d me and my order and started a time clock to measure how long it took the merchandise to come out.(4 min).
    I never interfaced with a live body until a clerk put the tool box in my car. This was easily the best shopping experience I had this season.

    I think stores with online shopping and brick and mortar pick up centers could be very competitive against the likes of Amazon. BKS could do this and stop the flow of folks shopping books there and then going to Amazon to buy them.
    BKS — Last year the Nook was being marketed from a small desk as you entered the store – This year there  probably 30 Nooks stations where  people could try the device. Not sure how they are doing but only about 1/2 the stations were in use. Store was busy but check out lines were very reasonable.

    BBY was busy and folks had bags but I was able to get help easily.  Last year I remember much busier, impossible to get a clerk and there were 10′ snow mounds in the parking lot.
    JOBS --Joesph A Bank. This store does the most local TV advertising of any retailer. "Buy one get one free, buy two get three free" – but 5 get a free Ferrari. This guy must have a 10x markup on his merchandise. Expensive TV advertising with constant 50-60% discounts and JOSB still runs a 62% operating margin!! (I have purchased clothes here and think it is inferior quality --the three dress shirts I purchased made it thru just 4 cleanings and that was their top of the line.). – I looked in a stand alone store and folks were buying like crazy.

    WMS – busy but not overwhelming so. Not much on sale.
    AAPl – Well this mall store generally has a wait line to get in but I walked in was was attended within 10min – It was busy but way off what I’ve seen before. I picked up the TV module allowing me to remotely connect my MacPro to my TV and can say that was well worth it. It’s fun spending time in the  evening punching in various topics on Youtube and see what comes up.

    Also pre Christmas we visited  a large outlet mall in Wrentham, Ma. The foot and car traffic was horrific. Lots of people and lots of bags.
    Two stores stood out as there were lines just to get in the store. COH. My god,  what is the attraction with handbags and women?  Somebody should do a study on this – I know shoes are a big deal but how many pocketbooks does one woman need?

    The second was Lindt a chocolatier.
    People go crazy for chocolate – This might have something to do with the sugar high obtained from  consumption and  help counter the depression of constant negative news. I tried to get into the Lindt store and could have made good use of nun-chucks just to secure my place in line, which extended well outside the entrance. Same goes for a kiosk in the mall set up by the SEE’s Co of Calif. People were grabbing 5, 10 boxes at a time!!! ( Nuts and Chews are the best

    And as long as I’m on sweets and sugar highs, the worlds best almond toffy comes from Enstrom’s in Grand Junction, Co. Only order 1 # at a time since one bite will hook you till it’s gone.
    Since none of these company’s are public. options on coca or sugar might be appropriate plays for post Christmas season

    Conclusion — busy but hard to see where we’re much better than last year.
    I’d look at M or COH if not already up to much – look at cocoa or sugar futures and maybe take a flyer on SHLD as they might be a good takeout candidate. I think I read somewhere that AMZN might look at them to put brick and mortar in play to compete with TGT ,WMT, KSS

    Post Christmas
    Sales on sales — generate revenue seems to be the order of the day at any cost – ANF 50% of everything in the store including all previous markdowns – standing lines to get into the 3 stores in this mall.
    M very busy and sales coupons in use everywhere – bought a NXT Victronix luggage for 70% of list.(one of the few that still gives a life time repair warranty.
    I’ve never seen so much left over Christmas decor merchandise as this year  – usually the after Christmas 50% discounts have folks scrambling for stuff – no sign of that this year and piles at 70% off at WMT, TGT and M
    Heard one clerk at BBY talk about "buyer remorse" as several customers had returned flat screens TV’s they decided they couldn’t afford.

      AAPL – this store actually seemed busier than before Christmas – maybe gift card cash-ins??
    Gift cards might save the season – we’ll see at the end of Jan. but if Y-Y revenue holds up I can’t see how margins could improve.