Friday, November 14, 2008

Economic Forecast for the Christmas Shopping Season

Having spent several years tracking the behavior of Christmas shoppers by the timing of Mercury stations, retrogrades and direct motion, I find that all that history is not applicable to the upcoming Christmas shopping season. Mercury is not retrograde any part of the holiday season proper; in fact, the last retrograde was Sept. 25 thru Oct. 15, ending right about the time all heck broke loose in the stock market.

Nevertheless, I will plunge onward with a stab at the behavior of shoppers this holiday season by looking at the flavors, so to speak, of the personal planets during these last few weeks of the year.

Let’s start with Mercury. Mercury is not getting any boost from a direct station during this time frame, as I mentioned above. It entered serious and spiritual Scorpio on Nov. 5, and then quickly enters happy-go-lucky Sagittarius on Nov. 24. This puts shoppers in a more optimistic mood in time for the kickoff of the official holiday shopping season. Sag is a free spender, but is also notorious for buying multiples of something, so stores that offer two for one or buy X number and get one free should do well with that.

Sag rules publishing -- so books sales should do reasonably well -- and law, religion and higher education. Perhaps grandparents will chip in something to their grandchildrens’ college funds rather than spend it on something that is disposable.

Venus and Jupiter, the two benefics, will be in serious-minded Capricorn (Venus from Nov. 13 till Dec. 8 when it slips into Aquarius). These two planets also be accompanied by the asteroid Juno, the wife or she-who-must-be-obeyed. Jupiter trines Saturn (plus asteroid Ceres) in earth sign Virgo and Vesta in the other earth sign Taurus (at least till Dec. 6). This earth trinity focuses on the practical, the durable, and on what you can produce yourself. Some may choose to exchange home-made gifts (Cappy and Taurus) or services/lessons (Virgo)with each other. Others may keep an eye to hard goods and supplies for making one’s own whatever, or things needed to start a sideline that brings in a second income stream.

An example: a plow attachment for one’s pickup truck so one can solicit local contracts to clear parking lots. Another example: spouting one’s own herbs in containers on the windowsill, to save on expensive store-bought seasoning. One might also turn a hand to making at least some of one’s own clothing or doing your own repairs, so that could mean buying your first sewing machine and lessons. More men may elect to change their own car’s oil and other basic maintenance rather than go in to the shop for everything.

Another note to keep in mind as you read the reports on how merchants are doing -- my thoughts are that shoppers will tend to cling to old reliable merchants that have been around awhile because of this heavy Capricorn and earth-sign influence. So stores like JC Penney, or even Sears and Abercrombie & Fitch, could see more shoppers who want to know that the store will still be there after Dec. 26 to accept exchanges. (I mention Penney’s because Bill Meridian mentioned that chain as due for an upswing over the next six months in a recent column.)

Vesta in Taurus trine Ceres in Virgo also will keep the accent on putting out a bountiful spread for holiday dinners. Taurus always likes to feed people anyway, and Virgo will bring healthful versions of old favorites, with less fat, omitting the GMO ingredients, and substituting organic as much as possible.

When Venus enters altruistic Aquarius on Dec. 6, the public may turn more to charitable giving than to spending still more on “stuff”. And families may schedule more group activities like attending city tree-lighting ceremonies or helping out with food banks. Aquarius may also give a late kick on sales of electronic items such as computers, printers, phones and software.

Mars enters the season in Scorpio. Mars in this position is quite the vulture shopper, as I call them. They shop where there are distressed sellers, and so those stores such as Mervyns that are liquidating their inventory in holiday sales before closing will be quite popular. Mars will enter Sagittarius on Nov. 17, where it will later be joined by Mercury. These two planets in the stock-up sign Sag will have a ball clearing out the shelves of vendors who offer deals on multiples -- the aforementioned “buy two, get one free” kind of thing.

Again, I do not see any burst of pent-up shopping desire, or any even necessarily any insistence on mark-downs. But the emphasis is on getting value for one’s dollar and buying items that will be used for a while. I see less buying of electronics gadgets and silly stuff, except for that rather late spike when Venus enters Aquarius. Vendors like Best Buy and Radio Shack will not be too pleased with that, and will have to work very hard to get shoppers attention in the immediate post-Thanksgiving week.

Best wishes for a happy holiday season, and I hope that your dreams have not all been shelved for another year.

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