Retail OUtlook for 1993 Optimistic but Cautious

Article excerpt

NEW YORK _ The nation's retailers will enter 1993 optimistic about the future for the first time in years, now that consumers have regained their zest for shopping and 1992 turned out to be better than expected.

But caution will again be the industry watchword, even for storeowners who had a terrific Christmas. While Americans are spending more than they did during the recession, they are still nervous, still concerned about their jobs and still have many demands on their paychecks.

If retailers "entered the (Christmas) season with very modest expectations that were met for the most part, you'll see that the same kind of expectations have been built for 1993," said Wayne Hood, a retail industry analyst with Prudential Securities Inc.

Karen Sack, an analyst with Standard Poor's Corp., said 1993 "should be a respectable year."

"It looks like the economy is coming back a bit," she said. "There's just a different feeling and there's an underlying sense of optimism with the consumer and you're seeing a willingness to loosen the purse strings."

In some respects, that 1992 turned out so well was a surprise for retailers.

Christmas 1991 had been a disaster on top of an already dismal year, and followed disappointing holiday seasons in 1989 and 1990. So hardly anyone expected the sales improvement that came along in January, typically the slowest month of the year.

And even as business gradually picked up through the rest of 1992, retailers _ already burned by earlier false recoveries _ had little confidence that their long slump was finally over. But sales have been strong enough at year's end that retailers are more upbeat about the future.

"Our business has been good all year and just seemed to get better, and I think we're anticipating a fairly good '93," said Carey Watson, senior vice president of marketing with the Miami-based Burdines department store chain.

Clark Johnson, chairman of Pier 1 Imports Inc., said, "I think next year is going to be a solid, steadily increasing year. I think the consumer feels better about prospects, whereas over the last two years, they felt that now wasn't a good time to buy."

"The economy is looking better, Washington is willing to face up to some of our problems, interest rates don't appear to be going up dramatically, and inflation is under control," Johnson said.

But Sandra Shaber, an economist with Wefa Group, an economic forecasting concern, warned that while consumers are more confident and shopping more than they did a year ago, their spending levels are still weak compared with past economic recoveries. …