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L.A. Consumers Upbeat for Holidays

Spending: Survey shows gift buying this season will probably meet or exceed last year's brisk outlay.

November 02, 2000|LESLIE EARNEST | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Feeling generally upbeat about the coming year despite higher interest rates and a volatile stock market, the vast majority of Los Angeles consumers plan to spend at least as much this holiday season as they did in 1999, according to a survey released Wednesday.

Nationwide, 82% of the consumers said they plan to spend at least as much as last year, while 77% of Los Angeles shoppers expect to match or surpass last year's spending. Shoppers both nationally and locally said they plan to shell out an average of $836 for gifts this Christmas season, according to Deloitte & Touche's annual holiday outlook survey. Orange County shoppers plan to spend $1,304.

Deloitte & Touche said consumers are willing to continue their generous holiday spending--ignoring such factors as skyrocketing fuel prices and Middle East turbulence--because they expect today's "generally favorable" economic conditions to continue into the coming year.

"Consumers nationally and in Southern California have a fairly positive outlook, reflecting a solid economy, a very strong job market, rising housing prices and low inflation," said Richard Giss, a partner at Deloitte & Touche in Los Angeles.

A separate survey by the firm found that retailers throughout the nation also are bullish about the upcoming season, expecting holiday sales to rise about 4.5% above last year's healthy levels.

But retailers in the West were less cheery, saying sales would likely be about the same as last year.

While most economic indicators were positive last year, Giss said, there are "clouds on the horizon" this year.

"The stock market is well off its peak, interest rates are rising, fuel prices are at historic highs and violence is erupting in the Middle East," he said. "It will be interesting to see whether consumers will shrug off these negative indicators as they do their holiday shopping in the weeks ahead."

Indeed, a Conference Board survey released this week found that consumer confidence had slipped to its lowest level since October 1999. Economists say the consumer confidence index typically sags in October but rebounds in November with the launch of the holiday shopping season.

Deloitte & Touche conducts its "Consumer and Retailer Mood Survey" each year in cooperation with the National Retail Federation to measure expectations about the holiday season. Nationwide, 1,272 consumers were polled--54% male, 46% female. The margin of error is plus or minus 3%.

This year for the first time, the firm polled an additional 225 Los Angeles consumers and 224 in Orange County to sample regional preferences.

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