Now that the turkey and trimmings have been stowed in fridges and tummies, it's time to turn to the other great American sport, besides football: shopping. Today is Black Friday, the day when retailers, traditionally, move from loss to profit.
This, however, isn't the year's biggest sales day, which usually occurs on the Saturday before Christmas when procrastinators finally start spending. But today's sales figures give economists and politicians a gauge of and a glimpse into the all-important consumer psyche. It isn't a faultless measurement; Black Friday sales last year soared by 12.4% but retailers recorded a lackluster 2% holiday increase overall.
The consensus among Wall Street retail analysts is for a moderate 4% holiday sales gain. But the nonprofit Conference Board cautioned on Tuesday that household spending on gifts was expected to slip to $455 from last year's $483, with wary consumers concentrating on bargains.
The board's lowered spending estimate came even as it reported that consumer confidence jumped in November to its highest level in a year. The Commerce Department, meantime, reported that corporate profit rose by 30% and that the nation's output of goods and services grew by a stunning 8.2% in the third quarter -- the strongest gains since the 1980s.