U.S. holiday sales view still weak after weekend rush

U.S. consumers sought bargains on toys, clothes and electronics as holiday shopping kicked off this weekend, but an early rush to stores was slower this year and was not likely to change a weak outlook for the season, analysts said on Sunday, according to Reuters.

Early results from the Black Friday weekend, which begins one day after U.S. Thanksgiving, showed that sales grew both in stores and online.

Sales on Black Friday, which once marked the day retailers would turn a profit for the year, rose 3 percent to $10.6 billion (6.9 billion pounds), according to tracking firm ShopperTrak. That was slower than an 8.3 percent rise in 2007.

Online sales for that day rose 1 percent to $534 million, web tracking firm comScore said on Sunday.

"I don't believe that up 3 percent on Black Friday means we can look forward to up 3 percent for the rest of the season," said Michael Unger, principal in the retail practice at Archstone Consulting. "I think we'll see a lot of aggressive discounting in the last two weeks."

Unger noted that ShopperTrak's data measures customer traffic, which was likely boosted by stores offering heavy discounts known to sap profit margins.

Richard Hastings, a consumer strategist with Global Hunter Securities LLC, said Wall Street may take the weekend's sales growth as a positive sign that consumers are still spending.

"The bear market rally may see (the weekend's data) as supportive of some stability in the consumer, but we believe that is not the case," Hastings said.

Hastings still expects total retail sales over the holiday period of November, December and January to fall 6 percent to 8 percent from last year. That would mark the first contraction in holiday spending since the National Retail Federation began tracking such sales in 1992.

The NRF is due to release additional holiday shopping data later on Sunday.

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