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Consumer Spending in US to Climb, Survey Says - 2002-11-27

A consumer survey says holiday spending in the United States is expected to climb five percent this year over last, despite the sluggish economy.

In November, U.S. consumer confidence plunged to its lowest level since 1993, so U.S. retailers have been bracing for a dismal holiday shopping season.

But according to Lynn Franco of the Conference Board, the New York-based business research group that carried out the 5,000 household survey - consumers appear ready to spend. "Things look a little brighter," she said. "Whereas last month we were looking at a pretty bleak holiday season, this time consumers are telling us that they intend to spend more than they did last year. Not a blockbuster season, but a little more optimistic than we were last month."

The survey indicates that families in the United States will spend an average of $483 on gifts this year, versus last year's figure of $462.

Many U.S. retailers make the better part of their yearly profits during the holiday shopping season, which traditionally begins the day after Thanksgiving. Ms. Franco says the upturn can be attributed in part to retailers themselves. Fearing the worst, they have taken steps to bring customers in including jumpstarting the season. "Discounting has already begun, the sales have already begun," said Lynn Franco. "There's some nervousness there that's driving that. But we've also seen, just over the past year or two, that consumers have become bargain hunters. You're going to see widespread discounting to lure consumers in. "

Ms. Franco also says that U.S. incomes are still rising at a rate of about three percent. This, coupled with a slight recovery in the jobless rate, also helps to prop up consumer spending.