No Christmas Cheer for Retailers - at Least Not During Bush Years

Economics reporter (and the Times' prime Wal-Mart basher) Michael Barbaro made the off-lead in Thursday's Times with his annual post-Christmas lump of coal: A rundown of the disappointing Christmas shopping season for retailers. This year it was actually a "bleak holiday shopping season."

(Barbaro's story from Wednesday anticipated today's by talking of "the bleak holiday shopping season.")

Barbaro's Thursdayfront-page articlecame with thesenot-so-cheery stack of headlines: "Major Retailers Feel The Squeeze From Consumers - Tepid Holiday Receipts - A Tightening Economy Touches Merchants Rarely Affected."

"As the nation's merchants began poring - or weeping - over holiday sales receipts Wednesday, a surprising pattern emerged: even brands that for years have inspired the undying devotion of shoppers felt the pinch of tightening wallets.

"Once seemingly invincible marquee chains like Coach, Target, Starbucks and Abercrombie & Fitch are settling for ho-hum growth this winter, after surpassing even the most rosy expectations season after season.

"Though they sell very different products, at very different prices, these companies all shared the same bragging rights. Their customers considered them indispensable, even expressions of who they were.

"But in this turbulent economy, the indispensable is becoming disposable."

Barbaro'sWednesday filing, "Disappointing Sales During Holiday Season," was just as pointed.

"American consumers, uneasy about the economy and unimpressed by the merchandise in stores, delivered the bleak holiday shopping season retailers had expected, if not feared, according to one early but influential projection.

"Spending between Thanksgiving and Christmas rose just 3.6 percent over last year, the weakest performance in at least four years, according to MasterCard Advisors, a division of the credit card company. By comparison, sales grew 6.6 percent in 2006, and 8 percent in 2005."

Barbaro wasn't crazy about Christmas 2006 either, as shown by the headline and lead ("Rush at End, but Holiday Sales Fall Short").

"There is always next year.

"Shoppers swarmed discount stores and mobbed suburban malls over the crucial holiday weekend, but the final burst of buying is expected to fall short of retailers' expectations."

Tom Blumer did a comprehensive historical rundown of Times coverage of post-Christmas sales for NewsBusters and found a pattern of anti-Republican bias - playing up strong sales during the Clinton years while tamping down good news during the eras of Bush I and Bush II.