Business briefing

The daily business briefing: December 27, 2022

Holiday sales beat expectations, China to end traveler quarantine, and more

1

Holiday sales rose in 2022 despite 'big downward pressure on spending'

Holiday retail sales exceeded expectations in 2022, with Mastercard reporting sales were up 7.6 percent between Nov. 1 and Dec. 24, higher than the predicted 7.1 percent growth. However, retail sales growth was down compared to the 8.5 percent increase last year due in part to rising interest rates and recession jitters. Restaurant spending was up 15.1 percent over the same period in 2021, with in-store sales up 6.8 percent and online sales up 10.6 percent, while electronics and jewelry dropped. "Inflation concerns are a big downward pressure on spending," Kayla Bruun, an economic analyst at Morning Consult, told The Wall Street Journal ahead of the holiday weekend. "Consumers are working their way through their savings buffers they have built up."

2

China moves to end zero-COVID policy by scrapping quarantine requirement

Inbound international travelers to China will no longer be required to quarantine for two weeks upon arrival, the nation announced Monday, marking a major move away from the long-held "zero-COVID" policy by Beijing. Beginning Jan. 8, international travelers will only be required to show a negative COVID test result in order to enter the country, effectively ending the three years of intense — and intensely criticized — restrictions imposed by President Xi Jinping. "How many people who used to straddle the borders … had to change their life plans? How many families had been separated and barred from seeing their loved ones for one last time? How many three years do we have in our lives?" one Chinese journalist wrote on the social media website Weibo. The news, which involved China's health authorities downgrading COVID-19 to the less strict "Category B" designation, was positively received by the markets in Asia, with the Shanghai Composite rising 0.64 percent and the Shenzhen Component rising 0.85 percent.

3

'Avatar: The Way of Water' enjoyed 'stronger-than-expected' Christmas box office

Americans braved sub-zero temperatures and knee-high snowbanks to see Avatar: The Way of Water, which grossed a "stronger-than-expected $29.5 million on Christmas Day," The Wrap reports. The numbers put James Cameron's film on track to be the fourth-biggest Christmas box office ever, behind 2015's Star Wars: The Force Awakens ($49.3 million), 2019's Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, and 2021's Spider-Man: No Way Home. The Avatar sequel, already near $900 million in total worldwide grosses, is expected to cross the $1 billion mark by New Year's Day "at the latest," The Wrap adds, with the film's four-day holiday weekend total revised to $90 million. Though Cameron hasn't revealed how expensive Avatar 2 was to make, he's previously called it "very f--king" expensive and claimed it'd need to be "the third or fourth highest-grossing film in history" to "break even."

4

Stock futures rise to start final trading week of 2022

U.S. stock futures rose early Tuesday heading out of Christmas weekend and into the final trading days of 2022. Dow Jones Industrial Average futures were up 160 points, or 0.48 percent, with S&P 500 and Nasdaq 100 futures up 0.4 percent. "Due to low trading volumes, investors are expecting either relative quiet or further volatility during the holiday-shortened week," CNBC writes. However, Benzinga notes that the so-called "Santa Claus rally that is typical of the year-end hasn't kicked in yet" — perhaps due to recession fears and higher interest rates, MarketWatch speculates. The day after Christmas is historically the best day of the year for the S&P 500, according to Ryan Detrick of Carson Group, who wondered if the bump will "just be pushed back a day" since the NYSE was closed on Monday in observance of Christmas Day.

5

It will be harder to make holiday returns this year

Retailers are tightening up their generous return policies in light of shipping costs and rampant cases of fraud. "Retailers are really trying to figure out how they can allow consumers to return but also not have to shoulder all the expense," shopping expert Trae Bodge said. An estimated $135 billion worth of products will be returned in 2022, with some 33 percent of recipients expected to return unwanted gifts after Christmas, leading companies like Anthropologie, Zara, H&M, and JCPenney to implement charges of up to $8.50 for returns. "These adjustments in return policies are not there to cover costs," Spencer Kieboom, founder and CEO of Pollen Returns, previously told CNBC. "They're really there to deter the consumer from returning."

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