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The Latest On Holiday Shopping & Spending, EBay Shares Fall as Online Shopping Slows
By Joseph Galante

Dec. 14 (Bloomberg) -- Inc., EBay Inc. and other retailers fell in U.S. trading as cash-strapped consumers limited their Internet holiday purchases of leather coats and high-definition televisions while waiting for better bargains.

Internet sales from Nov. 1 through Dec. 11 increased 19 percent to $20.5 billion, Reston, Virginia-based ComScore Inc. said late yesterday. Online purchases in November and December may advance 20 percent, a record low for the industry, and slower than the 26 percent pace of a year earlier.

U.S. retailers may see the worst sales growth this holiday season since 2002 as shoppers grapple with $3-a-gallon gasoline and consumer prices that rose the most in more than two years in November. Target Corp., Kohl's Corp. and J.C. Penney Co. have responded with discounts of 50 percent or more to lure customers.

``It could be challenging for our ecommerce companies to outperform expectations'' this quarter, Robert Peck, an analyst at Bear Stearns Cos. in New York, said in a note today.

U.S. retailers' shares have dropped during the holiday season, with the Standard & Poor's 500 Retailing Index falling 11 percent since the start of November, compared with a 5.3 percent decline on the S&P 500., the world's largest online retailer, decreased $3.32, or 3.6 percent, to $89.08 at 4 p.m. in Nasdaq Stock Market composite trading. EBay, the largest global auctioneer, dropped $1.39, or 4.1 percent, to $32.70, and Circuit City Stores Inc. fell 59 cents, or 8 percent, to $6.82.

Internet Sales

Internet sales, which make up more than 3 percent of total retail sales, may be the fastest-growing retail channel this holiday season. Online sales may increase to $29.5 billion in November and December from $24.6 billion a year ago, ComScore predicted.

``In a rapidly growing market like ecommerce, very high growth rates become more difficult to sustain as the market gets bigger,'' ComScore spokesman Andrew Lipsman said in an e- mail. ``It doesn't mean the growth rate this year is necessarily a sign of weakness.''

The slowdown contrasts with government data that showed U.S. retail sales in November rose at twice the rate anticipated by economists.

Retail sales increased 1.2 percent in November, the Commerce Department said in Washington yesterday. That followed a 0.2 percent gain in October, the U.S. agency said.

Shopper Visits

Sales fell 2.7 percent in the seven days through Dec. 8, following a 4.4 percent decline a week earlier, Chicago-based research firm ShopperTrak RCT Corp. said this week. About 12 percent fewer shoppers visited stores last week, compared with the same period a year ago, ShopperTrak said.

Consumers are completing their holiday shopping later than usual, and they're trimming purchases to pay more for food and fuel. The National Retail Federation in Washington forecast a 4 percent increase in holiday sales this year.

While the Monday after Thanksgiving is promoted as Cyber Monday because of a pattern of higher online shopping, days closer to Christmas had purchases totaling more.

Last year, Cyber Monday was the 12th-heaviest online shopping day, while Dec. 13 had the biggest sales, according to data from ComScore.

Profit Margins

Stores may further reduce prices, hurting profit margins, to lure customers seeking bargains. Target, the second-largest U.S. discount chain, and J.C. Penney, the nation's third- biggest department-store company, missed analysts' sales estimates for November. CompUSA, the 23-year-old computer retailer, said Dec. 7 it will shut down after the holidays.

Office Depot Inc., the world's second-largest office- supplies chain, forecast ``continued erosion'' of sales and earnings in the current quarter because of declining demand from corporate customers.

Purchases at Office Depot and Staples Inc., its larger rival, have slowed as small businesses and consumers buy fewer copiers and furniture during the worst housing slump since 1991.

U.S. consumer prices increased 0.8 percent in November, up from 0.3 percent the previous month, on higher food and energy costs, the Labor Department said today in Washington.

To contact the reporter on this story: Joseph Galante in New York at .
Last Updated: December 14, 2007 16:16 EST

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