By all accounts, holiday sales last year were miserable. The recession was at its peak, and a climate of negative uncertainty prevailed in the minds of consumers. Last year’s sales were down 3.4%, one of the worst years on record for the retail industry. Last week’s Quick Poll asked readers if we should expect a similar slump this year, or if the 2009 period will mark an improvement in holiday performance. Most voters, 68%, said we are headed for another slump, while the rest contended that things will improve. Rich Walter, president of retail investment advisory firm Faris Lee Investments, is in the later party and spoke with about his thoughts.

There is a lot that goes into trying to forecast this. I’ve seen things from the same as last year to a positive 2%, so it’s all over the boards. What we’re gauging it and looking at are the common factors: ‘What are the tenants saying out there?’ We’re on the investment-sales side, so in the deals we’re transacting we’re talking to managers at the store level. It’s an on-the-street sort of intelligence. It’s a different perspective rather than what day of the week Christmas falls on.

We’re hearing encouragement. The consumer that they’re talking to seems to have more confidence than last year. A lot of people, and myself and colleagues, look at the stock market as being a very big positive, 10,000 or close to it is a good sign for confidence because people felt pretty deflated last year looking at their retirement accounts. It’s encouraging that they see that happening. I’m hoping that it will stay there, and assuming that it does, that helps a lot in the holiday sales. A lot of people last year pulled back, and I don’t expect people to buy a ton this year, but at the same time, the savings rate has gone up, so people do have some capital.

I don’t expect that the luxury goods will take off and be the winners here. You’re still going to see the discounters be the winners. Probably the losers are going to be some of the big ticket or higher-end luxury sellers. But the confidence level is much better than it was. The market last year was relatively shocked.

Politically, at least the perception of the consumer is that the government is in control of the economy. So what we’re hearing is that it’s going to be a slight improvement. I think we’re going to be on the positive side. We could likely be at 1% up versus everybody else thinking we’re going to be down because people on the street feel comfortable and people are buying at a better pace right now than when they were last year.

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