Merry Christmas, Unhappy New Year

November 4, 2009

santaIt may be the longest recession in history, but for many Britons it hasn’t felt too bad.

Unemployment has risen and the days of easy credit are gone. But for those people still in employment, there’s been a big fall in mortgage costs, and food and energy prices have come right back down.     

Monthly surveys from grocer Asda have shown a steady rise in disposible incomes and so it is hardly surprising that retailers are starting to feel the benefit.

Marks & Spencer beat first-half profit forecasts on Wednesday, while rival clothing chain Next topped third-quarter sales expectations.  

The signs are that Christmas, the biggest spending season of the year, will continue the positive trend and will not be a repeat of last year’s frenzy of discounting and business failures.

The Centre for Retail Research forecast earlier this week that retail sales would rise 1.9 percent to 44.7 billion pounds in the last six weeks of the year, not far short of the average outcome in the nine years before last year’s decline.      

But the improvement is unlikely to continue.

With a temporary cut in VAT sales tax due to reverse and other taxes expected to rise to plug the gaping hole in public finances, disposible incomes could come back under pressure.      

Wages growth is likely to remain subdued as unemployment continues to rise, and many Britons may feel that, after a festive splurge, they need to refocus on paying down their still high levels of personal debt.

It may be a merry Christmas, but a much less happy New Year.

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