Black Friday & Cyber Monday: Just What the Doctor Ordered

retail stocksDid you fight the masses and venture out for deals on Black Friday?

I didn’t, as I try to avoid crowds. But it appears that I was not in the majority: an estimated 212 million shoppers ventured to stores and online sites on the weekend, up from 195 million in 2009, according to the National Retail Federation.

And the shopping was not confined to Friday and the weekend. According to the market research unit IBM Coremetrics, Cyber Monday was also successful for retail online sales. Online sales surged 19.4% year-over-year, with the sale of luxury goods up 24.3% year-over-year. These are encouraging and positive signs, especially the sale of luxury goods. Clearly some consumers have money to spend, but there are many that are struggling.

The reality is that the strong sales and margins could help to drive stocks to start 2011. However, the key will be the profit margins and whether the selling is driven by heavy discounting and clearances of goods, which is not indicative of a strong retail setting.

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A strong holiday sales season could drive a Santa Claus Rally extending into the New Year. Watch for the revenue readings from retailers this Thursday.

Sales heading into the holiday season also look encouraging given the stronger-than-expected Consumer Confidence Index for November. The confidence reading is critical, as it suggests consumers are positive and this could bode well for the holiday shopping season following a strong Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

It does appear a reversal may have occurred in retailing. The key is to look for same-store sales growth in retailers that sell non-essential goods. Increases here could mean consumers are spending on goods and services that are non-essential. These include electronics, appliances, furniture, autos, and other big-ticket items.

The uncertainty was clearly reflected in the weak Durable Goods reading, which was a disappointment and in my view worrisome. The Durable Goods Orders reading for October saw a disappointing decline of 3.3%, much worse than the negative 0.3% estimate polled by Briefing and down from the upwardly revised five percent in September. Excluding transportation, Durable Goods fell 2.7%, versus the estimate calling for a rise of 0.4%.

I’m disappointed with the Durable Goods results, which in my view continues to indicate weak demand for non-essential goods and services. Again, until we see sustained improvement in jobs and housing, there will likely continue to be problems arising,

First-time claims for the week ending November 20 were an impressive 407,000, down 34,000 from the previous week and at a two-year low. The size of the decline is incredible and totally unexpected, but can it continue in the months ahead? The improvements in the claims picture are nonetheless encouraging, but watch to see if it continues. Another few readings near 400,000 will turn heads, albeit we doubt it will happen given the continued high unemployment. For a healthy jobs market, the key level to watch for is 400,000 and below.

All eyes will be on the November non-farm payrolls this Friday, with estimates calling for the creation of 130,000 new jobs, down from 151,000 in October. While the number of jobs may decline, I like the job creation for the second straight month. The unemployment rate is expected to hold at 9.6% and is expected to be high, according to the Fed.

My favorite area in the retail space continues to be the discounters and big-box stores. The big-box stores are now selling a broad range of electronics and are adding to their product line. This will offer consumers a one-stop place for shopping. The king of cheap of course is Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (NYSE/WMT), which continues to be the best of breed in retailing due to its global footprint, massive buying ability, and discount prices.