Research firm boosts holiday outlook

NEW YORK (AP) ? With about week until Christmas, optimism is rising that holiday sales will be better than originally forecast. Still, the season isn’t expected to end up being stellar.

ShopperTrak, a Chicago-based research firm, announced Friday it’s upgrading its holiday sales forecast, a day after the nation’s largest retail group boosted its outlook.

ShopperTrak now believes that sales for the November and December period combined will rise 3.7 percent compared with the same period a year ago. That’s up from the original 3 percent growth forecast issued in September when the economy’s recovery looked more uncertain.

The 3.7 percent forecast is still below the 4.1 percent growth registered in the year-ago period, according to ShopperTrak’s measure.

Bill Martin, founder of ShopperTrak, says a decent November and a steady pace in sales so far in December warranted the upgrade.

“We believe that the holiday season is deserving of more optimism,” he noted. He added that after a big spending spree over the Thanksgiving weekend ? the official start of the holiday season ? stores saw a typical lull, but sales didn’t plummet the way they have during some of the weaker holiday seasons in the past.

The National Retail Federation said Thursday it now expects holiday sales to rise 3.8 percent, up from the 2.8 percent forecast made in early October. The projected gain is still below the 5.2 percent pace seen during the holiday 2010 season from the prior year, but it’s well above the 2.6 percent average increase over the past 10 years.

Still, any upgraded forecast is good news as stores look to the final days before Christmas to rope in holiday shoppers.

ShopperTrak measures foot traffic in 25,000 stores in the U.S. and blends those figures with economic data. The data excludes sales from automotive dealers, gas stations, restaurants and grocery stores.

National Retail Federation’s forecast excludes sales from automotive dealers, gas stations and restaurants.