Experts hope Saddam's arrest will spur shoppers
By Anne D'innocenzio
The Associated Press
It was a mixed weekend for businesses eager to hear cash registers jingle, with snow hampering shoppers in the Northeast even as retailers hoped the capture of Saddam Hussein might bolster consumer confidence.
Shoppers were out in force Saturday, according to industry observers, but business declined Sunday for many stores, dampened by the second major snowstorm in the Northeast in just over a week.
Wal-Mart Stores, the world's largest retailer, said in a pre-recorded call Monday that December same-store sales growth is tracking near the low end of its projected range of 3 percent to 5 percent. Traffic was down for the week, reflecting the trend toward later holiday sales.
Same-store sales are considered the best indicator of a retailer's health.
Still, several experts said the news of Saddam's capture, revealed early Sunday, couldn't be a better holiday gift for merchants during the season's last, crucial stretch.
"Ultimately, in the long run, this is going to put people in better spirits, and we are definitely excited that this has come during the holiday season," Ellen Tolley, a spokeswoman at the Washington-based National Retail Federation, said Sunday.
C. Britt Beemer, chairman of America's Research Group, in Charleston, S.C., believes Saddam's capture will result in improved consumer confidence that will translate "into bigger sales."
However, that remains to be seen.
Shoppers such as Colleen Briggs, who braved swirling snow while shopping Sunday at New York's Rockefeller Center, said they were pleased with the news, but it wasn't going to make them open their wallets wider.
"I'm glad they got him, but it's not going to make me spend more," Briggs said. The Tampa, Fla., resident said she'll spend about $2,000 -- the same amount as last year.
Despite an economy that some say is on the rebound, consumers continue to be frugal and seem to be waiting even later to do their holiday shopping than they did last year. Although recent economic data have been cheery, personal job security is the most important factor in how much consumers spend.
"I held onto my job when everyone else was losing theirs, and I feel like it's all coming back," said Jayne Huddleston, who was at the Dallas Galleria on Saturday, buying toys and sweaters for her young children. "I feel like our jobs are a bit more stable, and neither one of us has been laid off. And if you can have your job, that's good."
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