Blue Christmas?

via At U.S. Ports, Flow of Imports Suggests Soft Holiday Shopping Season – NYTimes.com.

When retailers expect that Americans will be crowding into their stores, their orders pile into the nation’s ports in August and September for delivery to stores by late October. But logistics companies say that is not happening this year.

Shipping from Asia into California’s largest ports is down from last year.  Current trends point to levels equal to 2005.

While the port has not yet released September volumes, a spokesman, Art Wong, said it expected about a 15 percent drop from September 2010.

Eastern ports, as well as the port of Los Angeles, are also down.

The holidays receive outsize attention, because sales in November and December tend to make up about a fifth of retailers’ sales for the whole year. And retail sales are a crucial indicator of economic health, given the importance of personal consumption in keeping the economy afloat.

On Monday, a Citigroup retail analyst, Deborah Weinswig, revised her holiday forecast up by a percentage point, saying she expected 4 percent to 5 percent gains in same-store sales at department stores, up from 3 percent to 4 percent.

However, port shipments speak to a different scenario – lower sales.  Train traffic was also slower than expected.  Another indicator of lower sales:

FedEx was now expecting a 2.5 percent to 3 percent increase in holiday shipping volumes this year; in 2010, it had a 15.4 percent increase.

Does this point to a blue Christmas, with lower sales and less money being spent?  We’ll have to wait and see – only 73 days ’til Santa!

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