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O.C. Consumers Expect No Decline in Christmas Spending, New Survey Says

Economy: Shoppers estimate they'll spend $1,304 for gifts, compared with national average of $836.


Feeling generally upbeat about the coming year despite higher interest rates and a volatile stock market, Orange County 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 match or surpass last year's spending, as did 83% of the shoppers surveyed in Orange County and 77% of Los Angeles consumers.

Shoppers throughout the nation said they expect to shell out an average of $836 for gifts this season, while Orange County shoppers plan to spend $1,304, according to the poll by Deloitte & Touche, an accounting and consultant firm.

The survey said consumers are willing to continue their holiday spending sprees because they expect today's "generally favorable" economic conditions to continue into the coming year.

"The attitude of Orange County consumers reflects the area's exceptionally strong economy, its very low level of unemployment, rising housing prices and the negligible levels of inflation," said Tony Cherbak, a partner at Deloitte & Touche in Costa Mesa.

While virtually all indicators were positive last year, there are "clouds on the horizon" this year, said Richard Giss, a Deloitte & Touche partner in Los Angeles.

"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 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%.

For the first time this year, an additional 224 Orange County consumers were surveyed to pinpoint local trends.

Respondents were particularly upbeat about their employment, with 93% of Orange County consumers saying their jobs were secure or very secure, while more than 91% of those in the national sample were similarly optimistic.

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.

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