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Seasonal Retail May Blossom – But Slowly

Eleven shopping days, and counting. Holiday sales got off to a rip-roaring start on Black Friday, then seemed to lose steam. Will retailers end December in the black?

Marshall Cohen, chief retail analyst at market-research firm The NPD Group, told “Morning Call” that holiday profits may be forthcoming, but it will take a while before retailers know they are in the black. One reason he notes: Gift cards, whose sales are expected to hit $30 billion this year.

NPD found that 51% of people surveyed in 2006 like the idea of the freedom-of-choice cards, versus 39% in 2005. The result: Cohen told CNBC’s Liz Claman to expect stores to be open on Christmas Day, and sales still building slowly but surely through January. The firms likely to benefit most -- electronics purveyors like Circuit City and Best Buy.

The first week of this month saw shopping-mall traffic counts dwindle from the “early surge” of November, Cohen notes. And some of that surge won’t be repeated, the analyst says, as it consisted of one-time-only holiday-decoration buys at Lowe’s and Home Depot.

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