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Visa reports weak end to 2006 holiday sales


Visa said that sales for holiday 2006 appear to have fallen short of its earlier outlook.

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Credit card company Visa reported that, according to its latest data, 2006 holiday retail sales look to have missed prior estimates, despite a last-minute jump spurred by sharp merchandise discounts.

Visa’s chief economist said that holiday spending is on track for a gain of about 6.5 percent. Visa had initially forecast a rise in sales of 7.5 percent, but later cut that outlook to between 6 percent and 7 percent. Visa noted that it would be difficult to make up for the fact that the season began slowly, followed by procrastination among shoppers.

A year earlier, Visa’s data showed that holiday sales climbed 8.3 percent. Visa tracks purchases made with its credit cards, which account for approximately 17 percent out of every $1 spent in the U.S. The credit card company’s sales data covers the shopping period through Dec. 24.

Still, there were bright spots to be found. Bargain prices on big-screen TVs, iPods and video game systems like the Nintendo Wii lifted sales at electronics chains.  Also, Visa said that robust sales of home furnishings and appliances helped home-oriented chains. Meanwhile, apparel retailers seem to have maintained their margins as they offered solid holiday fashions, Visa’s economist remarked.

Visa’s numbers indicated that the average ticket size rung up by a holiday shopper slipped 1 percent during the Christmas season, which was due not only to deep discounts, Visa noted, but also to the reality of consumers buying a little bit less. However, retailers specializing in clothing, jewelry, and accessories saw average ticket amounts add 3.5 percent, indicating that fall and holiday fashions were greeted with enthusiasm by shoppers, Visa said.

Visa said that Dec. 23 was the biggest shopping day of 2006, followed by Dec. 22.  “Black Friday,” which follows Thanksgiving and traditionally starts the holiday shopping rush, was the third biggest day of the year, Visa reported.


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