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Chris Jones

Las Vegas Retailers Expect Good Season

26 November 2003

LAS VEGAS -- This time each year, just days before Black Friday -- the first holiday shopping day after Thanksgiving -- many local retailers seem to roll out annual projections calling for "double-digit sales increases" in holiday sales.

That pattern held true again this year, when representatives from several local shopping centers said their sales should improve by more than 10 percent over year ago.

Time will tell if retailers' expectations become truth or holiday bluster, but a pair of regional economists said several factors, most notably job growth, seem to suggest this year may indeed produce a strong holiday sales period for Southern Nevada retailers.

"It's reasonable to think this year is going to be better than last year in terms of holiday spending," Tracy Clark, an economist with the Bank One Economic Outlook Center at Arizona State University, said Tuesday. "The employment picture is better, Nevada was one of two states that recently posted positive manufacturing job growth, and that suggests the state's economy is healthy."

In October, the Las Vegas area enjoyed a 3.6 percent job growth rate, well above the 2.5 percent improvement it reported during the same month a year ago, state figures show.

"Anytime job growth picks up, people have more disposable income, and they're more likely to spend money," Clark said.

Nationally, recent consumer confidence studies also bode well for increased holiday spending, Clark said. He's also seen signs that fewer consumers will purchase automobiles this holiday season in favor of buying smaller items such as clothing, home goods and other products found in traditional shopping centers.

"I'd be extremely surprised if there isn't a fairly good increase, but whether that's a 5 percent or 10 percent increase I can't tell," Clark said.

Joe Reel, an analyst with the Nevada Department of Employment, Training & Rehabilitation, also sees good things in store for local retailers in the coming weeks.

"The fact that we have added more than 35,000 jobs over the last year represents a significant improvement to Nevada's economy," Reel said. "(That) translates into a significant amount of purchasing power that wasn't there a year ago."

Reel also cited an October report by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis that showed Nevadans' personal income total improved marginally during the first six months of 2003. Clark County taxable sales indicators also topped $6.6 billion through September, a 12.7 percent increase compared with the first nine months of 2002.

"You're dealing with a year-over-year comparison when the economy was at the bottom (in 2002), but it's hard to dispute a series of positive numbers," Reel said. "I guess it remains to be seen how happy we'll get" this shopping season.

Retailers from across the nation often rely heavily on end-of-year sales to boost their bottom lines. Last year, for example, small stores based in U.S. malls generated 25.7 percent of their annual sales during the months of November and December, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers, a New York-based trade group.

Because travel typically slows during the holidays, Strip-based malls such as the Forum Shops at Caesars, The Venetian's Grand Canal Shoppes and Desert Passage at Aladdin are less reliant on the holiday sales period than neighborhood malls such as Meadows, Galleria at Sunset or Boulevard.