Thursday, December 24, 2009

Shrinking Credit Threatens Almost $9 Billion in Sales

This time of year is normally a retailers dream, but according to people are spending much less than usual this holiday season. With banks tightening their lending practices before a new credit-card law is due to take effect, large retailers are expected to lose out on nearly $9 billion in lost revenue.

Sales in November and December may fall 1.2 percent to $436.7 billion from the same period in 2008, said Britt Beemer, chairman of consumer polling firm America’s Research Group. If lenders weren’t cutting customer spending limits and rejecting more credit-card applicants, sales would gain about 0.8 percent to $445.5 billion, he said in a Dec. 21 interview.

Target Chief Financial Officer Douglas Scovanner says the credit-card legislation is exacerbating a spending slump just as consumers begin to consider more discretionary purchases they would usually buy with credit. Items such as clothing, jewelry and home goods suffered steeper declines during the recession and are among the most profitable sales for retailers.

“It will mute the impact of the rebound that would have otherwise occurred,” Scovanner said. “Diminished availability of credit equals diminished spending.”

Reduced lending may shave at least half a percentage point off sales at stores open at least a year once more of the Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility and Disclosure Act goes into effect in February, Scovanner said in a Nov. 17 interview in Minneapolis, where the chain is based. In November, Target’s comparable-store sales declined 1.5 percent.

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