January 16, 2007 > Strong demand for electronic gadgets
Strong demand for electronic gadgets
By MARTIN CRUTSINGER
WASHINGTON (AP), Jan 12 _ Consumers snapped up flat screen televisions and the latest electronic gadgets at a frenzied pace in December, helping retailers close out 2006 with better-than-expected sales.
The strong showing during the all-important holiday season and a big jump in consumer confidence in January lifted hopes that the economy, after enduring a sluggish period last year, has begun to rebound.
Retail sales rose 0.9 percent in December, the best in five months, the Commerce Department reported Friday. That was better than the 0.7 percent analysts had been expecting.
``It turned out to be a very merry Christmas for retailers. Consumers were out spending aggressively,'' said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's Economy.com. ``It is surprising just how resilient consumers are in the face of a severe housing crunch.''
In a good sign for 2007 prospects, a survey released Friday showed that consumer confidence shot up in January as worries about soaring energy prices and a slumping housing market appeared to be easing.
The RBC Cash Index, based on results of the international polling firm Ipsos, showed consumer confidence increased to 95.3 in early January, the best showing in 11 months, up from a December reading of 86.9
Other economic barometers have indicated the economy is beginning to rebound after a significant slowdown caused by soaring energy prices, higher interest rates and a steep slump in housing.
Analysts said they now believe that economic growth, which skidded to a lackluster pace of 2 percent in the July-September quarter, rebounded to 3 percent or even higher in the final three months of the year, helped considerably by the strength in retail sales.
``Thanks to the ever-resilient consumer, the economy appears anxious to break out of its 2 percent to 2.5 percent growth range,'' said Bernard Baumohl, director of the Economic Outlook Group.
The good news about the economy helped lift spirts on Wall Street, pushing the Dow Jones industrial average up by 41.10 points to 12,556.08. It was another closing high for the Dow, the index's 24th record close since the start of October.
While the warmer-than-normal weather had been blamed for depressing sales of winter clothing, it encouraged shoppers to get out to the malls and auto showrooms.
Auto sales, flat in November, rose by 0.3 percent in December, while sales at electronic and appliance stores surged by 3 percent following an even bigger 5.8 percent jump in November.
Those increases reflected heavy demand for flat screen televisions and sought-after video game consoles such as Sony's Playstation 3 and Nintendo's Wii. That strength offset the weakness in sales of appliances due to the slump in home sales.
Consumer spending accounts for two-thirds of total economic activity. Because of the strength, analysts said the Federal Reserve is likely to keep interest rates unchanged until midyear, dashing hopes in financial markets for quicker rate cuts.
December sales were up 3.8 percent at gasoline stations, reflecting in part higher pump prices during the month. Those gains still left pump prices below the $3-plus records set last summer.
Excluding the volatile gasoline and auto sectors, retail sales would have risen by 0.7 percent in December, the best showing since January 2006.
The 0.9 percent overall gain pushed retail sales to a seasonally adjusted total of $369.9 billion in December after a 0.6 percent November increase, which had originally been reported as a stronger 1 percent gain.
Sales at department stores and other general merchandise stores such as retailing giants Wal-Mart and Target rose a solid 0.9 percent, triple the 0.3 percent increase in November.
Sales at specialty clothing stores, which had been down two straight months, posted a 0.6 percent rise in December. But sales at hardware stores fell by 1.1 percent, reflecting the continued troubles in the housing industry.
On the Net:
Retail sales: http://www.census.gov/retail