Light the lights, we're in the mood for Christmas

SUDDENLY we're only days away from turning on the Christmas tree lights in the City Square.

SUDDENLY we're only days away from turning on the Christmas tree lights in the City Square.

And throwing the switch turns out to be one of my official duties as Melburnian of the year. I've never turned on a Christmas tree before, but don't imagine it's too hard to do. If it is, I'm sure lord mayor Robert Doyle will leap to my assistance with his customary high-voltage energy. Let's hope he decides to run for another term. He's done a great job.

Each year I remind myself of impending Christmas by playing Christmas carols in the office from December 1. I just couldn't wait this year so I started playing them in the car this morning.

The CD was James Morrison's This is Christmas and the opening track bopped out Santa Claus Is Coming to Town.

Resident economist Charlie has been looking at the results of a consumer pulse tracking survey conducted by a company called Foreseechange. The survey was conducted last weekend and takes into account our views about the latest interest rate cuts. For retailers, it's good news. There is light at the end of the tunnel, and I think it's Rudolf.

People now have a slightly increased willingness to spend. We seem to be feeling a bit better about the world. At the same time, there's still a high marginal propensity, as they say in the trade, to save our hard-earned but the urge to squirrel it away has at least not increased strongly, as it did in mid-2010. They're telling us that this Christmas will be better than the last.

Louise's daughter is greatly relieved at this news. She works at one of the big discount chains, and she reckons that last Christmas was worse than ordinary. And I guess if you can't afford to shop in a discount chain, everyone is in trouble.

Last year, retail sales grew 2.6 per cent and this year it's tipped they'll go up by 4.1 per cent. Foreseechange tells us 50 per cent of people now feel they have discretionary spending power, up from 44 per cent only a little while ago. Deck the halls, I say.

The only thing that can blow it up now would be a rapid decline in the sharemarket. Many of us now have a strong interest in the sharemarket because of our superannuation, so movements there affect our spending power more than ever before particularly our rapidly increasing numbers of retirees.

According to this research, people still think there's a possibility of an economic slowdown, but they seem to becoming less worried about it than they were before.

So, as Foreseechange tells us, retailers and their suppliers, and all the marketers who read this column, can expect a modest improvement in the year ahead. And if you want to wish for something for Christmas to make it even better, a bit of a lift in the sharemarket and a hold on interest rates would be great.

Other than that, we've all got very strategic about Boxing Day. Not only do we book early for our seats at the "G" for the India-Australia blockbuster, we are already in wait for the doors to open for the sales.

For me, I'll go back to James Morrison. I see the next track is O Come all Ye Faithful. Seems to be a good omen.

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