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CNBC Holiday Survey Shows Big Increase in Spending Plans

cnbc.com
Thursday, 21 Dec 2006 | 12:18 PM ET

Here come the big spenders.

After saying they planned to spend less during the last CNBC Holiday Survey, shoppers are suddenly opening their wallets.

In the latest CNBC survey conducted this week, Americans say they plan to spend a whopping $935 this holiday season, nearly $200 more than they said they would when the last survey was conducted 10 days ago.

The 30% gain is spread across almost every demographic group and region of the country.

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The biggest spenders: married men, who plan to shell out $1,200 this holiday season. Those from the Northeast and the Midwest will outspend shoppers from the South and the West.

The latest survey seems at odds with the downbeat mood that has gripped the retail sector in recent days, highlighted by poor earnings from electronics retailers Circuit City and Best Buy, where heightened competition crimped profits.

That hasn't stopped Best Buy from offering even more discounts, reports CNBC's Margaret Brennan on "Morning Call." The company rolled out a three-day sale Thursday, offering discounts on plasma televisions and DVDs, she says.

But Bear Stearns retail analyst Chris Horvers said Best Buy has learned its lesson, and doesn't believe the latest markdowns will squeeze profit margins as much as they did earlier this season.

"They are better equipped to handle the volumes during this time of year," Horvers told CNBC, and are prepared to "attach that warranty, attach that guarantee and really drive the profit margin on that transaction."

Despite all the planned consumer spending, half of poll respondents report they will incur less debt this holiday season than they did last year. Just 7% say they'll have more debt, and 35% say it will be about the same as last year.

One in three expect to have their holiday-related debt paid off within a month, and about one in five say it will take two to six months to pay it off.

Americans have made lots of headway in their shopping since the last survey. More than 80% have done all or most of their shopping. Ten days ago, that number was well under 50%.

However, this weekend still has the power to make or break the shopping season, CNBC's Brennan reports. Typically, the last five days of the shopping season account for 20% to 22% of apparel sales and 34% of jewelry sales, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers.

And just because Christmas comes on Monday, doesn't mean the shopping will end.

Underscoring a growing trend that retailers have noticed, 16% of Americans say they will do at least some of their holiday shopping in January.

Overall, the survey should be good news for retailers and supports a trend from the past several years where the Christmas season ends not with sleigh bells, but with cash registers ringing.

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