New York--Retail sales predictions for the upcoming holiday season are optimistic, with forecasters citing increased consumer confidence, lower unemployment and growing household wealth as the reason for their bullish outlook.

On Tuesday, the National Retail Federation said it expects U.S. sales in November and December (excluding autos, gas and restaurants) to increase a “solid” 3.6 percent year-over-year to $655.8 billion.

That is significantly higher than the 10-year average of 2.5 percent and also above the seven-year average of 3.4 percent since the economic recovery began in 2009.

Additionally, the NRF forecasts that non-store sales (direct to consumer, kiosks and online sales) will be up between 7 and 10 percent, reaching $117 billion.

“Consumers have seen steady job and income gains throughout the year, resulting in continued confidence and the greater use of credit, which bodes well for more spending throughout the holiday season,” NRF Chief Economist Jack Kleinhenz said in a news release.

The NRF notes, however, that there are a few factors at play that could shake consumer confidence and impact holiday sales, namely increased geopolitical uncertainty, unseasonably warm weather and the outcome of the U.S. presidential election.

So, which candidate--Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump--will be more detrimental to consumer confidence and holiday spending?

The NRF wasn’t biting on that question when pressed about politics during a call with reporters Tuesday morning.

NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay said the forecast is not based on the assumption of one candidate’s victory over the other in the election, which will be over in 33 days (not that anyone’s counting), but rather current economic factors.

He added that the NRF does not take a public position on presidential elections, though he did note that the organization is “not particularly encouraged by either candidate’s platform on a number of issues,” specifically trade.
“Small, independent retailers and local artisans are expected to compete for consumers (this holiday season) by offering personal service as well as unique and hand-made gifts.” --Steven Barr, PricewaterhouseCoopers
When asked on that same call what makes this holiday season better than last year--when the NRF predicted a 3.7 percent sales gain only to have the season finish at 3 percent--Kleinhenz cited many of the same economic factors underlined in the NRF’s forecast: lower unemployment and increased net worth, along with rising home prices.

Deloitte, which released its prediction for the holiday season back in September, also forecasts growth in the 4 percent range for November through January, while PricewaterhouseCoopers anticipates a sales increase that’s more than double that.

In its forecast, also released on Tuesday, PwC said holiday spending will reach its highest point since the Great Recession, increasing 10 percent year-over-year.

And while gifts of travel and entertainment will continue to gain ground on traditional gifts, U.S. retail and consumer leader Steven Barr said, “Small, independent retailers and local artisans are expected to compete for consumers by offering personal service as well as unique and hand-made gifts.”

He also echoed the NRF’s claim of increased consumer confidence, saying “The great news for all retailers is consumers are much more optimistic this holiday season.”

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