December 14, 2010, 11:13 AM

Strong November retail sales lead analysts to raise holiday forecasts

The NRF raises its forecast for the season to 3.3% from 2.3%.

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November retail sales were up 8.1% over the same month last year, the U.S. Commerce Department reported today, a strong showing that led two retail industry groups to raise their forecasts for the holiday season.

The National Retail Federation upped its forecast for November and December to a 3.3% gain over the same period last year in total retail sales, online and offline, from its previous estimate of 2.3%. ICSC, a trade group for shopping centers, raised its growth forecast for the same two months to 4.0% increase from 3.5%.

“The start to the holiday season has surpassed all expectations,” says Matthew Shay, president and CEO of NRF, a retailer trade association. “While employment data is still a concern, we are starting to see improvement in other economic indicators that support an increase to our forecast”

A survey by ICSC and investment bank Goldman Sachs shows consumers have completed 56.6% of their holiday shopping this week, up from 40.1% last week but a bit behind last year’s pace. That “suggests a stronger late-buying rush over the next two weeks,” says ICSC chief economist Michael Niemira.

The Commerce Department report says retail sales, excluding sales of autos and restaurant and other food-related sales, rose 0.9% over October and 8.1% over November 2009. While not reporting e-commerce sales today, Commerce reported that non-store retailers’ November sales were 14.2% ahead of November 2009 and 2.1% more than October 2010. Non-store retailers include those that sell on the web, as well as through catalogs, television and telephone marketing. ComScore Inc. reported yesterday that online sales for the holiday season are running 12% ahead of last year.

November U.S. retail sales, excluding autos and food, totaled $339.9 billion, the Commerce Department says. For the first 11 months of 2010, retail sales totaled $3.53 trillion, up 7.0% from the same period in 2009.

The U.S. Commerce Department reports e-commerce sales quarterly; its next report will be released Feb. 17, 2011.

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