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Black Friday and Cyber Monday's record sales: A good omen?
The holiday shopping season is off to a booming start. But do stampedes of bargain-hungry Americans really prove the economy is back on track?
A customer carries shopping bags on Black Friday: The first day of the holiday shopping season saw record numbers of shoppers and sales.
A customer carries shopping bags on Black Friday: The first day of the holiday shopping season saw record numbers of shoppers and sales.
REUTERS/Gus Ruelas
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hoppers turned out in droves over the holiday weekend. A record 226 million people shopped online and in stores, according to the National Retail Federation, and they spent an estimated $52.4 billion, also a record amount. The shopping spree continued on Cyber Monday, with online sales up 33 percent from last year, according to IBM's Benchmark research firm. Is this strong start to the holiday shopping season a sign of economic recovery?

This at least offers some hope: The shopping boom certainly set a "positive tone" for the season, says Andria Cheng at MarketWatch. Strong Black Friday sales lifted the S&P retail index 3.2 percent, the biggest one-day gain since August, and the broader market was also up. If we're lucky, a rise in consumer spending "may spread beyond the retail sector."
"Black Friday sales hit record, giving season hope"

And buyers seem a bit less worried: "Black Friday was a pretty good start" to the holiday shopping season, ShopTrak founder Bill Martin tells the Los Angeles Times. "Even though it's still a sketchy economy, there's been a steady improvement in unemployment that gives people more confidence to buy." And there may be more pent-up demand from those who have been waiting to buy that new TV or upgrade their wardrobe.
"Black Friday sales rise 6.6%, report says"

Actually, it's a bad sign: There was a veritable riot over cheap waffle makers in Little Rock, Ark, says Andrew Leonard at Salon. Such Black Friday insanity "is not a portrait of healthy economic activity." It's "desperation, pure and simple." The record sales show that money is tight: Americans are desperately seeking out good deals and "stretching every dollar to the max." It's unlikely that "happy days are here again."
"The desperation of Black Friday"

And history suggests the boom won't last: It's not good news when "short-lived, deep discounts are the only things that can encourage cash-strapped consumers to spend," say Barney Jopson and Robin Harding in Britain's Financial Times. Expect Americans to "close up their wallets once the bargains have gone." Remember 2008? Following the collapse of Lehman Brothers, there was record spending on Black Friday. Soon after, of course, spending "ground to a halt."
"Black Friday sales fail to dispel retail gloom"

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