Holiday Sales Dim in Southland : Retailing: Analysts say the lackluster local results are in contrast to a bright picture nationwide.


While there are indications this week that the nation's retail industry can expect a modest sales rebound this holiday season, it appears that Southland sales will be lackluster--which gives merchants in Southern California little reason for cheer two shopping days before Christmas.

Reciting the litany of California's economic problems--real estate woes and the loss of many jobs in defense contracting and the computer industry--most economists and retail industry analysts predict that there will be no appreciable increase in holiday season spending in the state compared to a year ago.

Ira Kalish, an economist in the Los Angeles offices of Management Horizons, a national retail consultant, predicts that--compared to the same period last year--there will be only a 1% increase in sales in California during the last three months of 1992.

Kalish predicted that fourth-quarter sales would actually decline by 1.6% in Los Angeles County compared to that period in 1991. Collectively, sales in Riverside and San Bernardino counties will decline 0.6% for the quarter, he said. However, Kalish predicts that sales in Orange County will rise 2.7% for the period.

In the remaining days before Christmas, retailers in Southern California are not likely to see the kind of sales surge that would significantly boost sales for the quarter, Kalish said.

"In the past few years, retailers have been starting their holiday season (sales) campaigns sooner and sooner," he said. "As a result, many consumers have already made their holiday gift purchases."

Some observers are even more pessimistic about sales prospects in the Southland. Industry analyst Walter Loeb of the New York-based Loeb Associates predicts that holiday season sales in California will dip 5% to 10%.

However, John Golisch, an industry analyst at the Los Angeles offices of business services giant Arthur Andersen, expects California sales to be relatively flat this holiday season. He said the state could register as much as a 2% increase in sales if there is a surge of last-minute shopping.

"The last 10 days before Christmas will be critical this holiday season," he said. "Based on my observations . . . (local) shopping activity was robust this past weekend, and if that pattern continues the rest of the week, retailers should be happier." Golisch said he saw large crowds of shoppers at a Northridge mall and at the Glendale Galleria shopping center.

Indeed, it appears that shoppers nationwide were disposed to spend on Saturday--considered a crucial date because it was the last Saturday before Christmas. Visa U.S.A. reported Tuesday that it processed 16 million credit card transactions on Saturday--an all-time high and 18% more purchases than the final Saturday before Christmas a year ago.

Mastercard on Tuesday said consumers used its card to purchase nearly $10 billion in goods and services between Nov. 23 and Dec. 19, a 21% increase over the same period a year ago.

To be sure, most economists and analysts predict that the nation's retail sector will report a 5% to 6% increase in holiday season sales when they tally transactions after Christmas.

It appears that a smaller percentage of consumers are writing checks. Telecheck, the Houston-based check acceptance service, examined transactions from 10,000 retailers nationwide between Nov. 27 and Dec. 19 and announced Tuesday that purchases made with checks for that period declined 0.7% compared to last year. Telecheck said check purchases in California were down 5.1% for the period, and such sales in Los Angeles declined 4.5%.

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