November 11, 2006

Weekend Question 1: Will ‘Christmas’ Be a Four-Letter Word This Year?

Filed under: Business Moves,TWUQs — Tom @ 10:01 am

ANSWER: Maybe not.

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From USA Today, it would appear that Wal-Mart and Macy’s are throwing holiday caution, and political correctness, to the wind:

Wal-Mart wishes you a Merry Christmas
Posted 11/8/2006 11:03 PM ET

Wal-Mart will put “Christmas” back into the holidays this year, the retailer plans to announce Thursday.

A year after religious and other groups boycotted retailers, including Wal-Mart (WMT), for downplaying Christmas, the world’s largest retail chain will have an in-your-face Christmas theme this year.

“We, quite frankly, have learned a lesson from last year,” says Wal-Mart spokeswoman Linda Blakley. “We’re not afraid to use the term ‘Merry Christmas.’ We’ll use it early, and we’ll use it often.”

Wal-Mart told about 7,000 associates of the plans at a conference last month and “was met with rapturous applause. … We know many of our customers will feel the same,” says John Fleming, Wal-Mart’s executive vice president of marketing.

Fleming says the retailer, which recently lowered prices on toys and electronics, will be pitching Christmas almost as much as “value” to holiday shoppers.

New this year:

• A TV ad trumpeting Christmas will air for the first time next week. Wal-Mart also will air TV ads along with the Salvation Army mentioning Christmas.

The name of the department with Christmas decorating needs will change from The Holiday Shop, which it was for the past several years, to The Christmas Shop.

• Store signs will count down the days until Christmas, and Christmas carols will be piped throughout the season.

• About 60% more merchandise will be labeled “Christmas” rather than “holiday” this year over last.

The Christmas spirit is spreading. Macy’s, the largest U.S. department store chain, plans to have “Merry Christmas” signs in all departments. All of Macy’s window displays will have Christmas themes. At New York’s Herald Square, the theme will be “Oh, Christmas Tree.”

Wal-Mart has some other issues that it may be attempting to offset. Its October sales were flat, while almost everyone else’s were strong. This could indicate that consumers are moving upscale, as often happens in the more mature stages of good economic times. Or, more ominously, it could mean that the protests of Don Wildmon’s American Family Association against the company’s active embrace of the pro-gay marriage movement may be having an impact (latest update here; petition here; I am NOT advocating a position on what Wlldmon is doing, but only relaying info to inform my readers of what is going on). Perhaps indications that Wildmon’s actions are working have helped Wal-Mart “get religion,” so to speak, on using “Christmas.”

An interesting question is how Target will react. Debbie Schlussel reminds us that the retailer is more than merely jumpy about the naming of the holiday. Two years ago, it banned the Salvation Army and its kettles from store premises.

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UPDATE: Best Buy, on the other hand, is mandating “Happy Holidays.” Don Wildmon’s American Family Association is not pleased (HT Connect the Dots).

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Last Year’s Related Posts:
Dec. 22, 2005 — When You Can Say What at This Time of Year (UPDATE 2)
Dec. 7, 2005 — When You Can Say What at This Time of Year (UPDATE)
Nov. 29, 2005 — What Time of Year Is It?
Nov. 23, 2005 — When You Can Say What at This Time of Year

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12 Comments

  1. Tom, you’re correct that WMT reported same store sales that didn’t increase. It’s hard to know if that’s WMT related or economy related because WMT may be a proxy for the central tendency of the economy due to its size. I hope you’re correct about “mature stages of good economic times”. I’m not sure because the yield curve and some smart observers are predicting a recession around the corner. Fiscal conservatives like me have been very worried about what appear to be irresponsible government monetary policies over the last decade or so. Since real estate related activity has been driving the market for the last few years, it will be ‘interesting’ to see what happens if it stalls or falls for a while. I’ve been trying like mad to hedge against this. I bought heavily into Berkshire Hathaway when it was cratered in response to the tech bubble. I’ve sold my direct investments in REIT’s. I’ve tried to buy stuff that won’t be hurt if the US dollar slides down a devaluation curve.

    I came to your blog because I saw that our congressmen on the west coast who are involved in the Duke Cunningham ‘pay to play’ crookedness were supporting ‘mean jean’. I noticed that the Charlie Keating-type crims were financing her. I happen to know a bunch more about USEC than you do. It’s sad and ugly to watch your hometown team fail.

    BTW, my business IS cell/molecular biology. Your views about ‘stem’ cells may comport with church dogma, but they are ‘whacked’ when it comes to bio-science. There’s a reason that the Nobel Prizes come bi-coastal. There’s a reason that the winner of the Prize for discovering Prions (Mad Cow) disease did it at UCSF rather than his hometown of Cincinnati. There’s a reason that UC is suffering a braindrain and currently having trouble holding onto NIH grants.

    But good luck to you. No matter what the Demmy’s do, it will be an economic improvement over the past 5 years. America will thrive even as the old heartland points fingers and sucks.

    Ciao

    Comment by Mike Roser — November 11, 2006 @ 10:53 am

  2. I doubt that the AFA’s actions are what Wal-Mart is trying to offset. The huge bet and subsequent tepid sales in Germany are causing problems for Wal-Mart.

    Comment by Kevin — November 11, 2006 @ 11:26 am

  3. BTW, you ought to read this: http://www.morganstanley.com/views/gef/archive/2006/20061109-Thu.html

    Roach has been a ‘permabear’, but he’s not wrong.

    Comment by Mike Roser — November 11, 2006 @ 11:42 am

  4. After reading this and Debbie Schlussel’s post, I went to Target.com and Walmart.com.
    # of times the word “Christmas” appeared on Target’s site: 3.
    # of times the word appeared on Walmart.com: 1.
    Also, go to Snopes.com and search for “Target” and you’ll get the whole story: Target isn’t avoiding the word “Christmas” this year (I’ve seen it in their ads already), and while they don’t allow bell ringers at their stores, they have a good relationship with the Salvation Army.

    Comment by Jeff — November 11, 2006 @ 2:12 pm

  5. Tom, unless I know for sure that I’m speaking to a Jew or Muslim or Buddhist, I use “Merry Christmas” without fail. I think more of us should. It’s still difficult for me to believe that the use of “Merry Christmas” is a subject of debate. If someone is offended, tough.

    Comment by Excelsior — November 11, 2006 @ 7:49 pm

  6. ALL–sorry for unusual delay due to all-day meeting in Columbus today.

    #5, agree completely.

    #4, having gone to Snopes, I didn’t realize that Target started using “Christmas” again in its holiday lit during the latter part of LY’s Christmas season. I didn’t get the same sense of “good relationship with the Salvation Army, though.

    #3, I’ve never said there aren’t things to worry about, but I do believe that figuring out how to grow GDP consistently at 4% or more could solve some problems and buy time to solve others.

    #2, WMT’s flat sales are US only. They did take a bloodbath in Germany that I think was recognized in 2nd P&L.

    #1, WMT was flat and almost everyone else had a good month. Very odd. I don’t think Alan Greenspan was irresponsible during his last 9 years, as you imply. I’m not buying the corruption angle on Schmidt, because she frankly doesn’t need the money. And I stand by my stem cell outlook. ESCRs have gotten nowhere and show no signs of being trainable; ASCRs (technically non-embryonics) are increasingly being shown to be trainable. I have a Nov. 14 Postivity post scheduled about non-embryonics being touted as a cure for certain forms of blindness. The ASCR good news continues to come in, while ESCR is speculative at best, and hampered by fraud and overhype.

    Comment by TBlumer — November 11, 2006 @ 11:20 pm

  7. Regarding the last sentence on post #3: “No matter what the Demmy’s do, it will be an economic improvement over the past 5 years. America will thrive even as the old heartland points fingers and sucks.”

    There’s always room for improvement in just about anything, but to imply the economics have been not good over the past 5 years is simply a biased viewpoint with nothing to back it up. Sorry. Overall economic numbers of the past 5 years have been good and growing if not stellar in some areas.

    Comment by Dan Sherman — November 12, 2006 @ 3:43 am

  8. #7, thanks, the record on GDP and other metrics since the 2nd or 3rd quarter of 2003 is in essence the same as or slightly better than the seven best years of Clinton, though not as good as the seven best years of Reagan-Bush 41.

    Comment by TBlumer — November 12, 2006 @ 10:44 am

  9. Sure, the economic results for me HAVE been stellar. When the FED holds interest rates below the inflation rate, excess money is created, and things look/feel really, really good. Bubbleomics is not a great way to ‘manage’ an economy. When you’re up on drugs, things are peachy. It’s the coming down that’s hard.

    So how will the country deal with future entitlements? Like when the baby boomers start retiring over the next 5-10 years?

    I haven’t figured out how buying homes is a good investment when you have to pay 5-7X your yearly salary. Worse, buying multiple houses for investment flipping. Isn’t real estate something 40+% of the economy? Rising forclosure rates and ghost towns in Phoenix and Las Vegas don’t sound good.

    Take a trip up I-75 and count cars in the parking lots of the factories. Many empty spaces? What’s happening on the old campus of Cincinnati Milacron in Oakley? Retail and service increases GDP, but what does it do to the balance of payments?

    How’re we doing on energy self-sufficiency? Ethanol improves combustion, but calculations suggest that using corn as a feed stock requires as much exogenous energy input as you extract. (diesel and fertillizer) Nuclear may be the same. So, what IS our energy policy?

    Gambling increases the GDP. Hedge fund activity increases GDP. Does any of this add value?

    vis a vis WMT – my understanding is that they SOLD their operation in Germany July. They also sold their South Korean stores. My understanding is that Tesco in the UK is beating them badly. (BTW, Tesco is planning to open stores in US, so stay tuned.)

    To reiterate: the economy has been wonderful for those of us who invest. I’m not so sure it’s been so wonderful for wage earners.

    But you make the call.

    Comment by Mike Roser — November 12, 2006 @ 3:01 pm

  10. I just got a call from a friend from Cincinnati. His take on the election was that a big loser will be the University of Cincinnati. His thesis is that Jean Schmidt will be a backbencher (whatever her intellect), and because of her fight with Murtha who is THE earmarker on the Democratic side of the House, Schmidt’s District will suffer from lack of federal support.

    Sounds logical. What do you think?

    Comment by Mike Roser — November 12, 2006 @ 3:08 pm

  11. #10, I simply do not care. And FWIW, UC is in the District 1 of Steve Chabot, (2600 Clifton Ave, Cincinnati, OH 45220-2872; check it out at house.gov), not the District 2 of Jean Schmidt. I suspect that Murtha will be an equal-opportunity discriminator.

    #9, Since your comment is off the topic of the post, I am passing on responding, except for this:

    So how will the country deal with future entitlements? Like when the baby boomers start retiring over the next 5-10 years?

    I do not know. Any attempts to discuss doing something structural have been ridiculed by the party that just gained congressional power. In 10 years we may be France and Germany, and at the point of no return, which is IMO what that party would prefer.

    Comment by TBlumer — November 12, 2006 @ 3:24 pm

  12. Soooo let met get this straight… Constituents of the [conservative] 2nd congressional district are supposed to be horrified that a [conservative] congresswoman may not procure money from hard-working citizens in other states (via “federal funds”) to support a [liberal] college that isn’t even in her district? LOL! Who do you think you’re fooling trying to cover for Strickland already who will do more to ruin education than OH-02′s 90 lb. marathon runner. Geeze.

    I love this whole “working together” facade that liberals are spewing out one side of their mouth (while spewing threats out the other).

    Game on.

    Comment by Tess — November 12, 2006 @ 7:28 pm

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