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Survey: U.S. consumers more upbeat about finances, job prospects

BY Katherine Boccaccio

Schaumburg, Ill. — Survey results released Tuesday by Nielsen found that nearly half (49%) of U.S. online consumers believe their personal finance prospects will be good or excellent over the next 12 months.

According to Nielsen’s Q4 global consumer confidence findings, the quarter’s results were the highest for 2011 and a six percentage point increase from Q3 2011. The number of U.S. respondents who described their job prospects as “bad” dropped from 28% to 19% between the third quarter and fourth quarter of last year as well.

Overall, the U.S. consumer confidence index rose six points from 77 to 83 for the fourth quarter, in a quarter that saw 60% of participating markets register index declines. The Nielsen Global Survey of Consumer Confidence and Spending Intentions tracks consumer confidence, major concerns and spending intentions among more than 28,000 Internet consumers in 56 countries. Consumer confidence levels above and below a baseline of 100 indicate degrees of optimism and pessimism. The latest round of the survey was conducted between Nov. 23 and Dec. 9, 2011.

Almost one third (32%) of U.S. respondents reported having no spare cash in the fourth quarter. For those with plans for spare cash, savings (34%) and paying off debts (31%) scored highest with respondents. Investments ranked last as an option for spare cash. Retirement and stocks/mutual funds each earned only 8% of respondents’ votes.

“As it relates to the economy, the number one concern for consumers is jobs. Recent gains in the U.S. labor market are positively impacting sentiment, but the number of Americans still unemployed or struggling to make ends meet will be continue to be a drag on spending in 2012,” said James Russo, VP global consumer insights, Nielsen. “Other macro trends aren’t helping either, including a weak housing sector, elevated commodity prices and slow wage growth. However, if the economy can sustain growth of 250,000 jobs per month, it will lower the unemployment rate and not only impact sentiment but spending.”

The survey found cutting back on gas and electricity (64%), new clothes (58%) and out-of-home entertainment (56%) were U.S. consumers’ top three strategies for saving money. When asked what they will continue to do when economic conditions improve, consumers’ top three answers were: cut back on gas/electricity (54%); cut back on take-home meals (34%) and switch to cheaper grocery brands (29%).

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Walmart appoints ex-Woolworths exec as new China chief

BY Katherine Boccaccio

Hong Kong — Wal-Mart Stores Inc. said Tuesday it has named Greg Foran as president and CEO of Walmart China. Foran, who joined Walmart last October, is a long-time veteran of Australian retailing group Woolworths, where his areas of experience included operations, merchandising, marketing and replenishment.

Foran succeeds Ed Chan, who resigned last year after a food scandal that involved mislabeled pork and the forced temporary closures of a dozen stores in central China.

Foran currently is senior VP, Walmart International. His new role becomes effective on March 1.

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Online spending jumps 13% in 2011, hits $161.5 billion

BY Staff Writer

Reston, Va. — Online retail spending reached $49.7 billion for the fourth quarter, up 14% over a year ago, according to comScore. It was the ninth consecutive quarter of positive year-over-year growth and fifth consecutive quarter of double-digit growth rates. For the entire 2011 year, U.S. retail e-commerce spending reached a record $161.5 billion, marking a 13% increase from 2010.

“The fourth quarter of 2011 capped off what was yet another strong year for online retail, one in which every quarter achieved double-digit increases versus the prior year," said comScore chairman Gian Fulgoni. "In the face of continuing uncertainty regarding the U.S. economy, consumers increasingly went online for their shopping needs. Price and convenience continue to be the critical value drivers for e-commerce, and unless those conditions change we can expect to see more channel-shifting to online in 2012 and perhaps even an acceleration in the current growth trend."

The top-performing online product categories in the fourth quarter were: digital content and subscriptions, jewelry and qatches, consumer electronics, toys and hobbies, and computer software. Each category grew at least 18% vs. year ago.

Other highlights of the quarter included:

*Fifty-two percent of e-commerce transactions included free shipping, representing an all-time high. The previous high was Q4 2010 at 49%.

•Smartphones and tablets played a growing role in online shopping, with consumes increasingly using smartphones to check prices and product features while physically in a retail store.

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