Holiday Spending to Dive: Gallup

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Last year consumers spent an average of $786 on holiday gifts, but if the latest poll from Gallup is correct they’ll be sitting on the wallets this year. Americans say they plan to spend an average of just $704 on holiday giving this year.

At the same time last year American consumers planned to spend $770 and ended up spending more. Retailers can only hope that the pattern repeats itself this year.

When asked to compare planned spending for this year with last year, 57% said of those surveyed said they planned to spend about the same amount as last year, while 26% said they planned to spend less and 15% said they planned to spend more.

Planned spending is dipping even below the cautious outlooks from retailers like Kohl’s Corp. (NYSE: KSS) and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (NYSE: WMT), both of which cut full-year EPS guidance when they reported third-quarter results today. Kohl’s said fourth-quarter sales could be down in a range of 2% to 4% compared with the fourth quarter a year ago.

If the Gallup data is close to correct, there are two retailers who will take the brunt of the problem. The first is J.C. Penney (NYSE: JCP) which needs a strong holiday, and its survival may depend on it. The firm sales recently same store sales had ticked up very slightly, but that is after two years of double digit drops. Penney has gotten new financing from a consortium of lenders put together by Goldman Sachs. However, Wall St. analysts are anxious about how long the money will last. The other company which faces an the holidays with anxiety is Sears Holdings (NASDAQ: SHLD) which owns Sears and KMart. Both of its properties have posted drops in same store sales in the last month. Each has ancient stores. And, each has a brand which stands for low end, low quality inventory.

The wide gap between last year’s spending and this year’s estimated spending may be too large to close. The National Retail Federation has estimated that retail sales will improve by 3.9% this holiday season and that won’t be enough to close a gap of more than 10% in consumers’ holiday spending plans.

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