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 CHARLOTTE, N.C., Nov. 26 /PRNewswire/ -- Today is the "official" start of the 1993 holiday shopping season, and First Union Corporation (NYSE: FTU FTUpr) Economist Mark Vitner and Retail Analyst Hanspeter Giger have good tidings for retailers this year.
 "Consumers are more willing to use credit and splurge a little bit because they're feeling more comfortable about their personal finances, even though they are still not particularly optimistic about the national economy," Vitner said.
 Consumer confidence hasn't been very strong during the last several years but has posted some improvement recently. "While confidence is still low from an historic perspective, the consumers' actions are speaking more loudly than their words. People are shopping again -- a little more cautiously than in the 1980s -- but they're buying again," Vitner said.
 Giger said that for retailers, last year was the first good holiday shopping season after several lackluster years. Big general merchandisers are expecting increased sales of 4.5 to 5 percent over last year. "While they'll see an improvement, it will be hard to get a gangbuster comparison against last year's benchmark," Giger said.
 Prices on consumer goods are fairly stable, up only 1.5 percent, compared with an overall inflation rate of 2.8 percent. Vitner said, some of the factors keeping prices down include big retailers with purchasing clout, private label manufacturers preserving competitive pricing, and the new, "category killer" stores, giving consumers an extremely wide variety of shopping alternatives.
 "Computers, especially those with "CD ROMs," will be a popular item in Santa's Bag this year, as more people get on the information highway," Vitner said.
 Giger sees strength also in sales of consumer hard goods, including automobiles and housing-related products, with apparel and smaller-ticket items sales increases occurring in the fourth quarter. "We don't see anyone getting left out this year," Giger said.
 "Time is on their side," Giger said. "This year's shopping season has an extra day, with 29 shopping days, compared with 28 days in 1992, and 26 in 1991."
 Giger said inventories are generally in good shape. "The bigger players are getting better all the time at managing inventory. Retailers are still cautious, but they're playing smarter, streamlining their product offerings, and making more effective use of technology to identify consumer buying trends," Giger said.
 Nationally, Vitner sees consumer spending rising about 5.5 percent to 6 percent, slightly ahead of income growth, as consumers use credit cards and savings from mortgage refinancing to make up the difference.
 Regionally, the South's economic conditions indicate happy holidays for retailers who depend on the holiday shopping season for about 40 percent of their annual sales. "While other areas, such as California and the Northeast are still struggling with sluggish economies, we've had substantially better job and income growth. We expect that to translate into stronger retail sales," Vitner said.
 At Sept. 30, 1993, First Union Corporation reported assets of $71.4 billion and operated 1,373 banking offices in Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Virginia, Tennessee, Maryland and Washington, D.C., and 218 nonbanking offices in 36 states.
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 /EDITOR'S NOTE: First Union produces a monthly Regional Economic Review and Weekly Commentary on interest rates and financial markets for interested members of the news media. For more information, contact First Union's Media Relations staff at 704-374-6092./
 /CONTACT: (Media) Donna Stockton of First Union, 704-374-6999/

CO: First Union Corporation ST: North Carolina IN: FIN SU: ECO

MM -- CH001 -- 7899 11/26/93 08:35 EST
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Publication:PR Newswire
Date:Nov 26, 1993

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