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Around the World, 2012 Holiday Shopping is Subdued

Around the World, 2012 Holiday Shopping Is Subdued
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Around the World, 2012 Holiday Shopping Is Subdued

Holiday shoppers were out in force hoping to get last minute bargains for Christmas but early indications suggest they didn't spend as much as in previous years. Despite a slew of deep discounts - some retailers say 2012 has not been a great year. Around the world, shoppers appeared subdued - not sure about what their economies might bring them in the New Year.

At U.S. shopping centers, parking lots were full - as thousands of last minute shoppers descended into crowded malls.

But the big crowds mask larger concerns. Consumer confidence has fallen to a 6-month low, and retailers say shoppers don't seem to be spending as much.

Dana Mattioli covers retail trends at the Wall Street Journal. "All the retailers are in panic mode. It hasn't been a great holiday season," she said.

But if flagging consumer confidence worries retailers, shoppers say they have other things on their minds.

In Greece, despite the festive decorations - the issue is not confidence but economic reality. After six years of recession, Greeks expect even tougher austerity measures in the New Year. So while shoppers in Athens look at the brightly decorated shop windows, few carry shopping bags.

One Greek pensioner says, after rent and food, there's just no money left. "Nothing, the economic hardships are so great that we cannot afford to buy anything," said George Manikas.

In Spain, where unemployment is 26 percent, shop owners are dropping food prices to tempt consumers. But Emilio Perez, a butcher, says customers have less money to spend.

"We are selling between 20 percent and 30 percent less than last year. The purchasing power people had has been taken away from them, and we can all feel that very clearly," he said.

But in Ghana, where money is tight and inflation is 9.3 percent, some shoppers were more philosophical. "There is no money in the system as per se, yes but we wouldn't think too much about that, money or no money. Since we have life, we have to do something for our children and loved ones," said shopper Vida Afforo.

But American retailers who enjoyed a brisk start to the holiday shopping season last month - are not ready to give up.

Retail analyst Bill Martin says there's still one week of holiday shopping before the year ends. "Retailers are hoping that the consumers will come back and deliver those same strong results during this last weekend of the year," he said.

Worldwide, the bigger concern is whether American lawmakers are willing to drive the U.S. economy back into a recession. Despite the threat of economic shock from higher taxes and automatic spending cuts, neither political party appears willing to bend on a year end deadline for a budget deal.