Retailers Hope for a Very Happy Holiday

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For the day after Thanksgiving, lead with the (mostly) good news: We're still flush. The evidence is both statistical (personal income rose 1.3 percent in October, the biggest monthly jump in nearly five years) and anecdotal (thousands nationwide lined up as early as Thursday nightto be first in line at discount stores Friday morning for all those $45 VCRs and $99 TVs). Confronted with surging stock markets, shrinking unemployment and virtually nonexistent inflation, retailers — and e-tailers — could be forgiven for feeling especially confident that in the next five weeks they will surpass even last year's whopping $170 billion in sales for the holiday shopping season. Truly, the most wonderful time of the year.

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The downside, if there is one amidst all this holiday cheer, is that this big earning (and spending) surge could cause the Fed to once again tighten its grip on the money supply. Alan Greenspan and the boys raised rates last week but signaled they were probably done tinkering until this whole Y2K thing blows over. But just as certainly as the credit card bills will come due in January, the Fed will reevaluate its position in the next year, and may feel that another rate hike will be necessary to keep everything on an even keel. Still, January's a long way from now, and until then it looks as if the economic bar will definitely remain open.