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Florida retailers predict a healthy boost in sales this season

After a pair of miserable holiday seasons, Florida retailers are anticipating a strong return of shoppers hunting for bargains and luxury goods alike.

In its annual forecast released Monday, the Florida Retail Federation predicted a 3 to 4 percent increase in sales, stronger even than the anticipated national increase of 2.3 percent.

"I'm probably liking the 4 percent number better," federation president and chief executive Rick McAllister said in a conference call Monday. "We've struggled for a couple of years. We lost a lot of small retailers through that period of time. … We're feeling much better now."

Even a 4 percent jump won't bring retailers back to prerecession 2006 levels, but it would certainly qualify as a substantial turnaround, McAllister said.

Some hard data show stores are already off to a stronger season.

Nationally, retail sales last month were running 7.3 percent higher than a year ago, according to Commerce Department figures released Monday. Subtract auto sales, and October results were still up 6 percent compared with a year ago and up 0.4 percent compared with September.

"Although cautious and in search of value, the American consumer has returned," said Sandy Kennedy, president of the Retail Industry Leaders Association. "With four consecutive months of sales gains, retailers are happy to turn the page on the last three years and embrace a more optimistic future."

The federation attributed its optimism to improved consumer confidence.

Unemployment remains at troubling levels, just under 12 percent in Florida. But consumers who have maintained steady income and saved more the past couple of years are ready to boost discretionary spending again.

"There's a certain pent-up demand. People can only go so long without rewarding themselves," McAllister said, citing expectations of a 15 percent increase in jewelry sales.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, the federation also expects bargain retailers to fare well. Separately, a recent AAA survey found more than 80 percent of shoppers in Florida, Georgia and Tennessee plan to take their gift lists to discount stores like Target and Walmart.

However, McAllister said some bargain retailers may have trouble replicating the sales numbers posted during the height of the recession, when shoppers flocked to them. Asked if any particular retailers are expected to continue struggling, he singled out the home furnishings market, hit hard by a falloff in home building that has yet to recover.

Jeff Harrington can be reached at jharrington@sptimes.com.

Florida retailers predict a healthy boost in sales this season 11/15/10 [Last modified: Monday, November 15, 2010 10:57pm]

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