It's the day after the annual Thanksgiving holiday in the United States when Americans hit the shopping malls in search of special bargains that mark the start of the holiday shopping season. This day is significant for what it indicates about the U.S. economy, which is struggling with a declining housing market, record high gas and oil prices and recession fears. From Washington, VOA's Margaret Besheer has more.

Shoppers began lining up outside department and electronics stores in early hours of the morning Friday to take advantage of retailer's deep discounts on everything from clothes to big-screen televisions.

"I'm in line 17 hours beforehand because I'm going to be saving two-and-a-half months worth of money in rent," said this shopper.

Retailers call the day after Thanksgiving "Black Friday" because the traditional surge in shopping turns many of their account ledgers from "red" - indicating a deficit - to "black" - showing a profit.

But while Black Friday is expected by some analysts to be the busiest day of the season, it is not a predictor of how retailers will fare overall in the holiday season.

"They are going to come out early and buy, take advantage of the sales, and then go away and sit on their wallets for a while," said retail analyst Wendy Liebman.

Last year, retailers had a good start during the Thanksgiving weekend, but struggled in the countdown to the Christmas holiday in late December. This year, analysts expect sales gains to be the weakest in five years, as shoppers worry about a declining housing market, rising oil and gas prices, a weak dollar and recession fears.

The United States is the biggest importer of raw materials and manufactured goods. If U.S. consumers do not open their wallets this holiday season, it will have a big impact on countries who export to the United States.