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South Korea data equals merry Christmas shopping?

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South Korea turned in higher-than-expected industrial production data on Friday, and some economists believe it may presage a stronger Christmas shopping season in Europe and the U.S.

"A general pick up can only happen if there are more orders coming in from external sources. That in particular indicates a healthy Christmas," Wai Ho Leong, an economist at Barclays, told CNBC.

(Read more: A naughty or nice Christmas at stores? Depends whom you ask)

Analysts have been parsing data points for clues as to whether shoppers will open their wallets during the key holiday shopping season, with many divided on the outlook.

In the U.S., consumer morale has been hit by higher payroll taxes and health-care costs, and a lack of confidence in Washington lawmakers. Add continued uneasiness about the job market and sluggish economic growth, and this year's Christmas spending could be fit for a Grinch.

But at the same time, competition for shoppers' dollars is intense, with some retailers preparing to offer their best promotions in years.

(Read more: Overstocked retailers offering epic holiday bargains)

In October, South Korea's industrial production grew by 1.8 percent (seasonally-adjusted) from September, above the 1.5 percent rise forecast in a Reuters poll. Meanwhile, production rose 3.0 percent from the same period the year before, above the 2.0 percent rise forecast in a Reuters poll.

Leong noted that producers in the country had been cautious, especially in the wake of the U.S. government shutdown for the first two weeks of October.

"People didn't know what to make of that," he said, adding that producers were not willing to trust positive high-frequency data, such as consumer confidence, from the U.S.

"People didn't know what to make of that," he said, adding that producers were not willing to trust positive high-frequency data, such as consumer confidence, from the U.S.

(Read more: For US stores, it is ugly out there...in more ways than one)

But the concern has so far proved unwarranted, Leong said.

"We are seeing a ramp-up of producer inventories and utilization rates that are more consistent with a healthy Christmas order season - mainly from G3 economies," he wrote in a note. As a result, export data, due December 1, will be closely watched.

But there is some hesitancy to take the Korean data at face value. When compared with historical levels, "inventories are elevated relative to shipments," said Ronald Man, an economist at HSBC, in a note.

(Read more: Misfit toy sales may benefit deal-hunting shoppers)

The jump in industrial production also followed a drop in September, when the country's Chuseok holidays were longer than usual and the South Korea's traditional season for labor strikes took hold, with Hyundai and Kia workers walking off the assembly lines for several weeks.

"These are good numbers this month," Richard Jerram, chief economist at Bank of Singapore, told CNBC. "But theSeptember numbers were quite soft."

He is skeptical the data heralds a good recovery for European and U.S. retailers, however. "The signs are there that there's some improvement taking place," he said, adding, "there's a fairly wide margin of error."

By CNBC's Leslie Shaffer. Follow her on Twitter: @LeslieShaffer1

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