FINANCE

First Data: November spending up a moderate 7.3%

BY Katherine Boccaccio

Atlanta –The SpendTrend analysis released Friday by First Data Corp., which tracks same-store consumer spending by credit, signature debit, PIN debit, EBT cards and checks at U.S. merchant locations, found that overall year-over-year dollar volume growth was up 7.3% in November 2011, down from October’s 9.4% growth.

November 2011 had tough comparables as November 2010 was a particularly strong month, with dollar volume growth up 8.1%, according to First Data. November 2011 transaction growth was 6.1%.

Consumers anticipated Black Friday sales and restrained spending earlier in the month. Retailers were reluctant to slash prices in November until planned Black Friday promotions began. Overall year-over-year average ticket growth was 1.1% for the month, down from October’s growth of 1.8% and the smallest increase since July 2011. Moderating inflation levels contributed to the slowdown in average ticket growth.

“Despite a good Thanksgiving/Black Friday, year-over-year spending growth was only moderate for the full month of November,” said Silvio Tavares, senior VP and division manager of First Data Global Information and Analytics Solutions, which publishes SpendTrend. “Consumers restrained their spending until Black Friday promotions began and appear focused on value this holiday season.”

The different retail categories experienced mixed results in November. Electronic/Appliances saw dollar volume growth turn positive for the first time in over a year, while Clothing/Accessory retailers experienced declining transaction growth for the first time in eight months. Consumers restrained spending over the course of the month as they geared up for the holiday bargains.

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FINANCE

Thomson Reuters/U of Michigan shows climbing consumer confidence

BY Katherine Boccaccio

New York City –The Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan preliminary index of consumer sentiment showed Friday that confidence among U.S. consumers rose more than forecast in December as Americans’ outlooks improved.

The index rose to 67.7, a six-month high, from 64.1 at the end of November. The median estimate of 73 economists surveyed by Bloomberg News called for a reading of 65.8. The gauge averaged 89 in the five years leading up to the recession that began in December 2007 and ended in June 2009.

“Spending has held in there and consumers’ negative attitudes have improved,” Stuart Hoffman, chief economist at PNC Financial Services Group Inc. in Pittsburgh, told Bloomberg. “Consumers started the holiday season strong and it looks like they will end it decently.”

The Michigan survey’s index of consumer expectations for six months from now, which more closely projects the direction of consumer spending, climbed to 61.1 from 55.4.

The index of current conditions, which reflects Americans’ perceptions of their financial situation and whether they consider it a good time to buy big-ticket items like cars, increased to 77.9 from 77.6 the prior month.

The Michigan index compares with the Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index which was minus 50.3 in the week ended Dec. 4, down from minus 50.2 a week earlier. The measure has been at minus 50 or less for 11 of the past 12 weeks, a performance unprecedented in its 26-year history.

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FINANCE

Toys “R” Us records Q3 loss

BY Katherine Boccaccio

Wayne, N.J. –Toys “R” Us reported Friday an operating loss of $75 million for the quarter ended Oct. 29, compared with a loss of $62 million in the year-ago period. Adjusted EBITDA was $36 million, compared with $49 million in the prior year.

Sales dipped to $2.7 billion from $2.72 billion a year earlier, and same-store sales fell 2.2% domestically and 3.9% internationally.

"During the third quarter, we prepared for the upcoming holiday season and took some important steps to position the company for long-term growth," Jerry Storch, chairman and CEO, said,

Toys “R” Us acquired a majority stake in its China and Southeast Asia operations and has opened its debut store in Poland.

“International growth in new and emerging markets remains a key part of our overall business strategy," said Storch.

On the homefront, the toy retailer said its priorities include creating new ways for customers to shop seamlessly between online and bricks and mortar businesses.

Through the end of the third quarter of fiscal 2011, Toys “R” Us invested $266 million primarily to convert, expand and remodel existing stores, open new stores and upgrade its information technology systems and capabilities, compared to $231 million in the prior year.

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