Not that it's a big surprise, but it seems that the answer to "How do we spin Christmas shopping season?" at the New York Times depends on which party occupies the Oval Office in Washington.
Monday, The Times's Stephanie Clifford, with the help of two other reporters, blew the holiday sales horn. Here are the first few paragraphs of her report, entitled "Retail Sales Rebound, Beating Forecasts," with a browser window title of "Holiday Sales Return to Prerecession Level":
Americans are splurging as though it’s 2007 again.
Shoppers spent more money this holiday season than even before the recession, according to preliminary retail data released on Monday.
After a 6 percent free fall in 2008 and a 4 percent uptick last year, retail spending rose 5.5 percent in the 50 days before Christmas, exceeding even the more optimistic forecasts, according to MasterCard Advisors SpendingPulse, which tracks retail spending.
The rise was seen in just about every retail category.
Gosh, this must mean that the Times was impressed when the final bell rang on the Christmas season in 2007.
Uh, not exactly. Two very similar December 26 items by Michael Barbaro were downright dour, and opened with the following paragraphs:
Article 1: Disappointing Sales During Holiday Season
Article 2: Holiday Spending Is Weak, as Retailers Expected
American consumers, uneasy about the economy and unimpressed by the merchandise in stores, delivered the bleak holiday shopping season retailers had expected, if not feared, according to one early but influential projection.
Spending from Thanksgiving to Christmas rose just 3.6 percent over last year, the weakest performance in at least four years, according to MasterCard Advisors, a division of the credit card company. By comparison, sales grew 6.6 percent in 2006 and 8.7 percent in 2005.
“There was not a recipe for a pickup in sales growth,” said Michael McNamara, vice president for research and analysis at MasterCard Advisors, citing higher gas prices, a slowing housing market and a tight credit market.
Well, okay, the Times simply had to be impressed with the big increase in 2006, right? Get with the program; of course not. Here's Mr. Barbero playing the expectations game on December 26 of that year:
Rush at End, but Holiday Sales Fall Short
There is always next year.
Shoppers swarmed discount stores and mobbed suburban malls over the crucial holiday weekend, but the final burst of buying is expected to fall short of retailers’ expectations.
Visa USA, the credit card company, said yesterday that it would lower its closely watched forecast for holiday spending. Based on purchases by credit and debit card holders, Visa said sales rose 6.5 percent in November and December, compared with the same period last year, down from its initial forecast of a 7.5 percent gain.
The company’s unexpected downward revision — and the millions of dollars in lost sales it represents — could have broad implications for the nation’s merchants, who count on purchases during the holiday season for nearly half of their business.
2005? Smart-aleck Barabaro also had an "answer" for that very good year:
The Day After Christmas, Shoppers Take a Holiday
Better luck later this week.
Many retailers hoping for a big finish to the holiday season instead had lighter-than-expected crowds over the long Christmas weekend, according to anecdotal reports, leaving stores to rely heavily on the next few days to pump up December sales.
Explanations for the lackluster finish varied: an unusually warm winter hurt cold-weather clothing sales, greater gift card use delayed purchases and higher energy costs discouraged splurges.
... Though final results for the holidays will not be available for several weeks, analysts and retail executives are projecting a respectable but not stunning season. November and December sales are estimated to grow 6 percent over a year earlier, compared with 6.7 percent in 2004.
As to the core contention in this year's report by Ms. Clifford above that sales came back to pre-recession levels: After adjusting for inflation during the past three years and finalizing the information from various data trackers, the verdict could still go either way.
Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.