KAI RYSSDAL: The economic calendar today began with you, in a matter of speaking — - holiday shoppers. The Commerce Department told us this morning retail sales for November spurted up a full 1 precent — that's wildly beyond analysts best guesses.
Economist Brian Bethune at Global Insight said it's all about the price point.
BRIAN BETHUNE: We're seeing the retailers coming out and offer aggressive discounting. So definitely the retail sales train has left the station in the month of November and it looks like it is picking up some momentum as we go into the final week of the holiday season.
Get two economists in a room, of course, and you'll get two or more different answers. David Kelly's with Putnam Investments — you oughta know they're one of our underwriters.
DAVID KELLY: Honestly, a lot of it has to do with the way the Commerce department is counting things. They changed the sample of retailers that they're using just last month, and this is a new sample, and I think they're trying to adjust their methodology a bit. So I, honestly, I think some of this may be, as I say, a little bit too good to be true.
We decided to break the tie ourselves. Shoppers at a mall here in Los Angeles explained their spending this way:
MALE SHOPPER 1: It's a consumer world. That's just the way we live, yeah. People want to buy things and it's around that season.
MALE SHOPPER 2: There aren't too many people, the people coming are interested in spending a little more in shopping, in buying gifts. It's not about the quantity, about how much money they're spending, each one.
FEMALE SHOPPER: I think people are shopping more this year than ever before. Poeple spend money that they don't have and I think it's just an escape and, you know, time to celebrate for Christmas and people just spend.
RYSSDAL: I dunno, sounds a bit Scrooge-like to me. We'll find out the truth next month.