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Business

Jury Still Out on Christmas Shopping

Bleak economic forecasts for the coming months may or may not have dampened consumer confidence this Christmas.In any case, it boosted sales of items helpful in times of gloom: blankets, thick socks - and lucky charms.

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At least the electric companies did good business over Christmas in Germany

Christmas is a time of secrets and mysteries: Parents hide presents from curious children, gifts disappear into bags, drawers and cupboards, and people wear that secretive smile on their faces that becomes more omnipresent the closer it gets to Christmas.

At the moment, Christmas sales are proving a mystery in Germany. On Saturday, the last major shopping day before the "big" day, the spokesman for the German Retailers Association (HDE), Hubertus Pellengahr, announced that this year's Christmas sales were "satisfactory" – only to declare less than 20 minutes later that "most retailers" had had far less turnover than at the same time last year. They had "no reason to celebrate," he said.

The retail association in Berlin, however, reported a "very well-visited city," the discounter chain Expert feared stock shortages, and retailers in Leipzig's main shopping mall announced they were "absolutely satisfied" with Christmas sales so far.

The news was topped by a German news agency report that sales on the Saturday and Sunday before Christmas had made it the weekend with the highest turnover in December.

Not enough time to shop

At the same time, the German Retailers' Association was not so cheerful. HDE managing director Holger Wenzel told German radio on Monday that it was "the worst year since the war." Turnover in comparison to last year has dropped by up to 3 percent, according to the HDE, and even on the days leading up to Christmas, sales were miserable.

HDE spokesman Pellengahr says that consumers' spending reluctance lies in the service union strikes in recent weeks, which severely limited access to public transportation in several major German cities, including Munich, Augsburg and Leipzig.

Frau balanciert Geschenke heim.

Frau balanciert Geschenke heim.

Germany's restrictive opening hours also kept people from emptying their wallets, Pellengahr believes. "People want more time to shop on Saturdays. It is a problem that we have to send them home with open purses," he told German radio on Monday.

The ongoing flow of dismal forecasts for the German economy and the government's unsettling economic policies, including the debate about tax increases, have also dampened consumer spending, according to the HDE. "We have absolutely no understanding for the government's [economic] policy -- if you can call it a policy at all," Pellegahr declared.

Essentials sell

But considering what people are buying, the dispiriting predictions may in the end stimulate sales: Among the favorites on Saturday's shopping list were items essential in times of gloom and dark winter nights: warm shoes, thick socks, blankets, cushions - and lucky charms.