Economic fears aren't crinkling Christmas lists 'Holiday optimism' evident in survey

November 27, 1991|By Timothy Mullaney

Even as the Conference Board reported that consumer confidence has plummeted this month, another report by a major advertising firm and a big accounting firm said that retailers and consumers are looking for a better Christmas than last year.

Deloitte & Touche, the accounting firm, and ad giant DDB Needham Worldwide said that in two separate surveys conducted last month retailers and consumers found "reasons for holiday optimism."

"One explanation of the possible difference is that in the [Conference Board] survey, people are talking about their plans for cars, houses, vacations -- big-ticket items," said Sandy Sulcer, vice chairman of DDB Needham in New York. "We were looking at things you put under the Christmas tree."

The DDB Needham survey of nearly 3,000 consumers nationwide said shoppers plan to spend an average of $368 on Christmas gifts. The survey did not ask consumers the same question in 1990, Mr. Sulcer said, but 21 percent of the people who responded said they plan to spend more this year, 54 percent said the same amount, and the rest said less or did not respond.

The study found consumers are more optimistic about their financial future than about the overall economy. While 34 percent expect the economy to get worse next year, only 17 percent expect to be worse off themselves.

Mr. Sulcer suggested that the split might mean people's own spending will pick up before they can spot an economic upturn. That spending could give badly needed support to the recovery, he said.

Retailers told Deloitte & Touche that their holiday looks cheerier than last year. Last year, the retailers were expecting big drops in sales and earnings, but this year most of them are expecting flat sales or a modest drop. About 36 percent of retailers expect their sales to increase this Christmas, the survey said. But most said they believe the recovery won't begin until sometime between October of next year and March 1993.

"I think the survey says the retailers were expecting terrible things last year," said Richard Ruggieri, an accountant at Deloitte & Touche's Baltimore office. "They don't expect things this year to be great, but they're not expecting a disaster."

Mr. Ruggieri said 70 retailing companies that do business in metropolitan Baltimore were among the 1,072 retailers surveyed. He said their expectations were "pretty much in line" with the national results.

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