Consumer report: Holiday retail season starts strong, led by personal electronics

Yonkers, N.Y. -- Despite flagging consumer confidence, December's Consumer Reports Index, a measure of overall consumer financial health, showed that the holiday season is off to a good start, with excellent activity in November and the prospect of a strong December.

The Past 30-Day Retail Index for December was 13.9, up from 12.4 a year ago, and planned spending for December was also strong at 12.7 compared to 11.8 last year. Among the categories comprising the Retail Index, the largest gains were in personal electronics.

Though there has been no improvement in Consumer Sentiment or in the financial difficulties faced by consumers, overall, measures are fairly stable.

"It may be this relative stability in contrast to the gloom of the past several years, that is causing consumers to cast off the restraint of the seasons gone by and 'celebrate' with some serious shopping," said Ed Farrell, director of the Consumer Reports National Research Center.

December's Consumer Reports Sentiment Index, which measures how consumers are doing financially versus a year ago, was unchanged at 45.4 from 45.0 the prior month.

The Consumer Reports Employment Index declined to 49.6 from 50.6 last month, with past 30-day job losses (5.7%) outpacing job gains (4.9%). This setback reversed three straight periods of an improving employment picture. Households earning $50,000 or more remained in positive territory (over 50), while those in households earning less than $50,000 lost ground (49.0).

Taking a closer look at the categories comprising the Consumer Reports Past 30-Day Retail Index, the gain in November spending was the result of an increase in personal electronics (31.4%), up from 21.2% last month.

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