Holiday sales looking good, not great this year

It's looking like a good, not great year for holiday sales.

The National Retail Federation estimates holiday sales will be up 4.1 percent this year, compared with a 3.1-percent increase last year.

Ken Perkins at RetailMetrics told me Super Saturday looked strong and noted a growing trend: buy online and pick up in store.

Piper Jaffray also highlighted this trend, urging investors to focus on stocks with high e-commerce penetration and particularly those with buy online, pick up in store capabilities. It specifically mentioned Nordstrom, Kohl's, and Williams Sonoma.

The investment bank is also a bit more optimistic about sales; 20 percent of respondents plan to spend more this year, according to a survey it conducted.

Checks with other retail analysts indicate that the holiday sales are going along about as expected.

MKM Partners, for example, said traffic was "mostly in-line with expectations" with the best traffic at Kohl's, Five Below, TJX Companies, and Dollar Tree.

Susquehanna made similar comments, saying sales were in line with expectations and that it is maintaining its "constructive investment posture."

We are hearing a bit less about heavy promotions in general, but Nomura has noted that several shops were more promotional going into the last week of Christmas, including Aeropostale, Abercrombie & Fitch, and Chico's.

Retail stocks seem to be responding to this modestly good news. The SPDR Retail ETF's Consumer Discretionary sector is at an historic high and has bounced in the last few days.

Bottom line: no blowout year, but a decent one, with improving consumer confidence and labor market data, along with lower gas. Those are all tailwinds. Margins will be comparable to a little worse than last year, and electronics continue to take wallet share from apparel.

  • Bob Pisani

    A CNBC reporter since 1990, Bob Pisani covers Wall Street from the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.

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