Black Friday has come and gone and the holiday shopping season is off and running. In addition to keeping on eye on how retailers are doing, there will be plenty of other economic data for analysts and investors to peruse on this week.
black friday postsFeed
Despite all the Black Friday social media engagement this year, a substantial 75% of the top 100 online retailers don't have a formal presence on Facebook, according to a study by ForeSee Results. Another 25% haven't even hit 10,000 fans.
Store traffic fell 6.6% from 2008 for the day after Christmas, but sales still reached $7.9 billion. Analysts expected the the first post-holiday shopping day to assume more importance, largely because of the storm a week earlier
This week, the world's top retailers will tell investors how the much-discussed holiday season went. Analysts expect a year-over-year gain of 1.3% for stores open at least a year, which of course uses a dismal 2008 as a benchmark.
The holiday shopping season is the last chance retailers get to pump up their financial statements before the close of their fiscal year, which usually comes at the end of January. For some retailers, up to 40% of their revenue comes in the weeks heading into Christmas.
With 70% of the GDP driven by consumer spending, Wall Street wants to believe this lie so badly that it has convinced itself it's true. Even worse-than-expected Black Friday sales haven't forced the Street to give up this inane hope.
Real consumer wealth is down more than 40% in the past two years; credit is contracting and unemployment is rising. That is not exactly the recipe for increased consumer spending.
Sluggish retail sales in November didn't stop retailers from adding bodies. A report by outplacement consulting company Challenger, Gray & Christmas, reavealed to BloggingStocks, shows that retail sector payrolls grew to 321,300 in November, an improvement from the previous month's 233,700. This follows 54,200 retail hires in October, bringing the total number of seasonal retail employees up to 375,500. Already, that comes close to the 384,300 hired from October through December in 2008. The analysis is based on data supplied by the Department of Labor.
High expectations for the holiday season likely contributed to the up-tick in hiring. The estimated 0.5% growth from Black Friday 2008 to Black Friday 2009 was a disappointment, and November sales were off 0.3%, surprising analysts, who expected the trend to go in the other direction. Costco (COST) and Limited Brands (LTD) came out ahead, but most retailers, including Target (TGT) and Macy's (M) struggled. Saks (SKS) is also suffering from an anemic luxury goods market.
The online push from Black Friday continued into Cyber Monday. Coremetrics, a web analytics company, found that sales were up 19.6% year-over-year as of 1:00 PM Monday. Online may account for only 10% of spending during the holiday season (7% overall), but it remains the bright spot in what has been a lackluster kickoff to the holiday season.
Black Friday spending was up only 0.5% this year, though Black Friday online spending jumped 35%. For Friday and Saturday, ShopperTrak reports that retail sales were up 0.9% to $16.77 billion, while customer traffic dropped 2.7%.
Well, the trade has gone horribly wrong this bleak Monday session. In case you didn't hear the news, the video-game chain sold off in a big way. As I write this, shares are off by a buck, and are priced at $24.32. The low on the day is $23.75. Volume, while not in panic-mode, is above average, and I expect it to possibly accelerate toward the end of the day.
Dubai, Wednesday, announced that it was asking to delay payment on billions of dollars of debt owed to Dubai World and Nakheel, a major developer in Dubai (you may remember those large palm shaped islands off Dubai for celebrities and the ultra-rich). Fear about Dubai writedowns has affected the price of oil, despite large supplies. Investors are worrying that the ripple effect of Dubai's debt problems will spread to other banks, creating another crisis.
Here were today's unofficial closing bell levels:
Dow 10,309.77 -154.63 (-1.48%)
S&P 500 1,091.47 -19.16 (-1.73%)
Nasdaq 2,138.44 -37.61 (-1.73%)
The news about Dubai's debt problems broke late Wednesday when the government of Dubai acknowledged it had asked its banks for a six-month stay on its schedule of debt repayments for two of its flagship firms, as they begin restructuring. Dubai World has liabilities of $59 billion, its subsidiary Nakheel said in August, a large proportion of Dubai's total debt of $80 billion. As markets were struggling to figure out what kind of exposure banks had to Dubai debt, banks outside the Gulf played down on Friday their exposure to Dubai debt.
If Thanksgiving is a bird, a beer and a football game for you, prepare to have your thinking challenged. Many retailers are looking to get a head start on Black Friday this year, opening a day early, some of them for the first time. Most Old Navy Stores (GPS) will open their doors on Thursday, along with Wal-Mart (WMT), Toys "R" Us, RadioShack (RSH) and Walgreen's (WAG). Rather than bet solely on Friday, retailers are looking to eke every last dime they can out of the holiday season this year.
The National Retail Federation expects holiday spending to drop 1% this year to $437.6 billion. "Retailers need to be competitive," says NRF spokeswoman Ellen Davis. "There's a lot riding on the success of November and December retail sales."
Retailers expect a strong turnout on Black Friday this year, but they are careful to explain that it doesn't guarantee a winning holiday shopping season.
Consumers are being lured by good deals and special promotions, and Black Friday specials have been leaked earlier than usual this year in the hopes of generating some buzz. The retail sector needs it. Last year's holiday season was the worst in decades, thanks to the financial crisis. This year, the survivors will benefit from fewer competitors chasing the same consumer dollars.
According to the website, the retailer will offer a 32-inch Westinghouse LCD HDTV for $246, which GottADeal.com's founder Brad Olson calls the "lowest price that we've ever seen for that model." The ad also touts $3 toasters and coffeemakers, and 50% discount on kids' clothes and toys.
Wal-Mart (WMT) won't close Thanksgiving weekend -- not at all. The world's largest retailer is going to keep its stores open 24 hours in an attempt to manage demand for entry during the busiest shopping days of the year. The company has announced it will also implement other crowd-control measures. The festivities start at 5 AM on November 27, 2009. Of course, this doesn't involve any change fro the Wal-Mart Supercenters which already remain open 24 hours a day, but it does address the 800 stores that aren't.
The 24-hour access alone won't do much to alleviate the pressure from thrill-seekers and the bargain-crazed who will want to push through immediately. To help with this problem, Wal-Mart is allowing people to gather in different parts of the store when waiting for the deals to kick off. According to Wal-Mart spokesman David Tovar, "If you've got a 200,000-square-foot store, people will be dispersed throughout the store instead of lined up outside the store." Yeah, that makes a lot of sense.
As the old infomercial guys love to say ... "But wait, there's more!"
Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) is in mortal competition with Sony (NYSE: SNE). The Xbox 360 wants to destroy the PlayStation 3. Of course, both would like to take out the Nintendo (OTC: NTDOY) Wii, but that's a pipe dream at this point. Microsoft mainly wants to claim victory over Sony because the systems of those two companies are more comparable to each other than they are to the Wii. And it looks like the most recent Black Friday may have been a win for Microsoft.
According to this source, the Xbox 360 outsold the PlayStation 3 by a margin of three-to-one. Also, Microsoft increased its console sales on Black Friday by 25% on a year-over-year basis. This data comes from Microsoft itself. Assuming it is close to accurate, Sony continues to find itself in a terrible position. Really, this current console cycle has been difficult for the PlayStation franchise. But while Microsoft won bragging rights, I can't help but wonder if the real winner from this increase in Xbox 360's installed user base is actually Activision Blizzard (NASDAQ: ATVI). It's currently my favorite publisher, and I own it in my portfolio. And given that the article I cited mentions the fact that the Xbox 360 enjoys a healthy game attach rate (the game attach rate is an indicator of how many software titles are purchased per console for a particular system), I figure that a lot of the new Xbox 360 owners will be attaching titles such as Call of Duty and Guitar Hero to their systems. These two brands play very well on the powerful console, and they are must-own games for a lot of users.
Admittedly, I'm sure other publishers will benefit from all the new Xbox 360 owners. Electronic Arts (NASDAQ: ERTS), THQ (NASDAQ: THQI), and Take-Two Interactive (NASDAQ: TTWO) are all obviously happy over Microsoft's Black Friday performance. But I believe Activision Blizzard to be the best positioned of the group. Its portfolio should rock over the holidays, and I think the company will take full advantage of all the console sales from now until the new year.
Disclosure: I own Activision Blizzard; positions can change at any time.