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A Cheery Holiday Shopping Season?

The Conference Board is awfully cheery about the upcoming holiday shopping season:

Nov. 20, 2007... U.S. households are expected to spend an average of $471 on gifts during the holiday season, up from last year's estimate of $449, The Conference Board reports today.

The survey of Christmas gift spending intentions covers a nationally representative sample of 5,000 U.S. households. It was conducted for The Conference Board in November by TNS, the world's largest custom research company.

"Consumers are in a festive mood heading into the Thanksgiving holiday," says Lynn Franco, Director of The Conference Board Consumer Research Center. "And, it appears they are willing to spend more than last year, though retailers can still expect a fair share of bargain hunters will be lining up for the traditional kickoff this Friday."

I don't buy it. I think the message in the declining stock market and in the falling real estate market is that consumers are wary of spending. If those two factors weren't enough to chill spending, banks are forcing consumers to tighten their belts. Debt is harder to come by for even well-off creditworthy households with banks reeling from millions and millions of dollars in bad subprime loans. What's more, the retail sales reports are downbeat at stores like Target. Finally, retailers are offering a lot of enticements to convince consumers to open their wallets--and we're not even at Thanksgiving.

All and all, the Conference Board is hitting a discordant note.

About the author

Chris Farrell is the economics editor of Marketplace Money.

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