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Consumer Briefing

November 22, 2009

Spending on holiday gift cards to drop

Gift cards are again the most-requested present for the holidays, but don't be surprised if you receive a discounted sweater instead.

Shoppers are expected to pull back on buying the popular cards for friends and family this holiday season, according to the National Retail Federation.

The retail group's most recent survey found that on average, holiday shoppers plan to spend $139.91 on gift cards this year, a 5% drop from $147.33 last year. Total spending on gift cards is expected to reach $23.63 billion.

In another sign of the times, recipients can expect gift cards with lower monetary values. The average value per card this year will be $39.80, down from $40.54 last year, according to the survey, which polled 8,692 consumers from Nov. 3 to 10. More than three-fourths of those surveyed (77.2%) plan to buy at least one gift card this holiday season.

WAL-MART

Fees for sending money are cut

Wal-Mart has had the giant scissors out lately, cutting the price of toys, books, DVDs, flat-screen TVs and the fixings for Thanksgiving dinner, among other things.

Now, the company says it is reducing the fees it charges to send money during the busy holiday season.

Consumers can send as much as $200 anywhere in the U.S., or internationally, at a Wal-Mart MoneyCenter or customer service desk for $7. (It used to cost $11.) The transaction can be completed without a bank account or credit card, and Wal-Mart says funds are available in 10 minutes.

Sending money home is a big business that gets even bigger during the holiday season. Wal-Mart money transfers increase by 14% in December, according to the retailer's internal research.

To send $200 from Los Angeles to Mexico, Western Union charges $14.99 for an immediate transfer and $9.99 for a next-day transfer, according to the company's website.

LAS VEGAS

Rooftop fireworks return for Dec. 31

New Year's Eve fireworks will return to the rooftops of Las Vegas Strip hotels to ring in 2010 after ground-level displays disappointed revelers last year, event and county officials said.

"We're moving the fireworks show back to where it should be," said Pat Christenson, president of the event promoter, Las Vegas Events.

Christenson said the $550,000 fireworks show would be fired from atop seven tall hotels lining Las Vegas Boulevard. The street will again be closed to form a pedestrian mall for the event that tourism officials have dubbed America's Party.

Christenson conceded that last year's low-trajectory pyrotechnics disappointed some of the estimated 250,000 people attending what became an annual aerial fireworks event in 2001.

The fireworks weren't held last New Year's Eve because of concerns that followed a spectacular three-alarm blaze ignited by welders' sparks at the Monte Carlo hotel-casino in January 2008. No one was seriously hurt, although 6,000 guests and employees had to evacuate the hotel.

RECALLS

Gas grills and pacifiers

About 664,700 Perfect Flame SLG series gas grills are being recalled in the U.S. and Canada because the burners can deteriorate, causing irregular flames, and the lids of some models can catch fire, posing fire and burn hazards.

There have been about 40 reports of fires from the burners deteriorating and about 23 reports of the lids catching fire.

A reported eye injury required surgery, and there were 21 incidents of minor burns to the hands, arms or face.

The recalled gas grills were sold at Lowe's retail outlets nationwide in the U.S. from September 2005 through May 2009 and in Canada from December 2007 through May 2009.

For more information, call (888) 840-9590, or visit www.lowes.com or www.cpsc.gov.

* About 641,000 Bobby Chupete pacifiers, manufactured in China and imported by Grand World Inc. of Maspeth, N.Y., are being recalled because the mouth guard is too small, creating a choking risk.

No incidents have been reported. They were sold nationwide from November 2004 to July 2009. For more information, visit www.grandworldinc.com or www.cpsc.gov.

-- times staff and wire reports

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