Christmas 2010 Could be Merriest Since Recession: CNBC Survey

Christmas 2010 could turn out to be the merriest since the recession began, with the exclusive CNBC All-America Economic Survey finding Americans somewhat more optimistic but real optimism remains elusive.

The survey of 800 people of all income groups, regions and walks of life finds that pessimism is down across the nation, but Americans will still hold a tight grip on their holiday spending dollars, with only a small increase in spending compared to last year.

Just over half of the survey respondents judge the current state of the economy as poor, but the 53 percent figure is the lowest reading since February 2008.

About 20 percent of the nation expects the economy to get worse over the next year, well below the 43 percent reading registered during the height of the recession in June 2008 and the lowest reading in three years.

Yet, just 7 percent judge the current state of the economy as excellent or good and just 37 percent believe it will improve next year, virtually unchanged from October and last Christmas.

Among other findings of the survey:

A very Apple-y Christmas: One in six Americans plan to give or receive an Apple product for the holidays; for upper income groups, the figure is one in four.

The wealthy get thrifty: 60 percent of Americans say they’ll spend more this Christmas than last year, up from 50 percent in 2009.

But the average amount they plan to spend is up 0.7 percent compared to actual spending last year. One reason for the small increase: the wealthy seem to be getting more thrifty.

No stocks in the stockings: The holiday season finds Americans still down on the stock market with 46 percent saying it’s a bad time to invest. It’s an improvement from the 51 percent who were negative in October.

But rather than getting optimistic, Americans became more uncertain. The percentage saying they were unsure about whether to invest in stocks rose to 19 percent from 12 percent in October.

More upbeat on wage gains and home values: For the first time since 2007, average Americans believe their home prices will rise in the next year. American optimism about wage gains over the next 12 months hit a two-year high, with an expected gain of 2.1 percent, up from 1.3 percent a year ago.

Wal-Mart , Best Buy Rebound: 48 percent of Americans pick big box stores like Wal-Mart and Best Buy as one their top two choices for spending their holiday dollars. That’s the highest level since 2006.

Online surge: Online spending hits a milestone with one in four Americans saying that shopping on the net is one of their top two choices for spending, the largest percentage ever.

Online security worries: But on-line security remains a major issue. 60 percent of Americans still do little or no shopping at all on line, which equals the percentage of Americans who say they are concerned about on-line security.

In hard times, kids win, adults lose: When it comes to cutting back their spending, Americans will first choose to economize on gifts to adults, friends and co-workers.

One place they're reluctant to cut back is on gifts to kids. And the last place they'll cut back is on food and holiday meals. 7 percent of the public say they’ll economize by regifting.

Video madness: 44 percent of Americans say video games make bad gifts because kids spend too much time in front of the screen. 33 percent say they make good gifts because kids love them. Americans with kids are just about split on the issue.