Strong Christmas sales figures give hope for better 2012

Improved December sales figures indicate spending may increase in 2012, but stagnant incomes still haunt consumers

Dankort debit card sales surged in December, suggesting a strong Christmas season for retailers. The payment company Nets reported that Dankort sales reached 30.4 billion kroner last month – a 3.8 percent increase over December 2010 – though inflation of 2.5 percent accounts for some of that surge.

Dankort purchases last month rose 2.2 percent over NovemberÂ’s tally, and have grown for the past four months in a row. Since August, Dankort sales are up 5.6 percent.

The previous month was a dismal one for retailers. In November, sales fell 0.5 percent, as worries about the economy and jobs kept consumers out of store aisles – despite falling unemployment and rising exports.

“Christmas sales fared better than earlier Dankort figures indicated they would,” Lars Olsen, a consumer economist at Danske Bank, told the Ritzau news bureau. “The turnaround began in September and accelerated in December even though consumer spending was low throughout the fall.”

The most recent Dankort figures suggest that spending could grow in 2012, Olsen predicts. But he doesnÂ’t expect them to surge. Consumer confidence is still low, and consumers will continue to be hurt this year by stagnant incomes and new taxes.

But there is hope on the horizon.

“There is a lot to suggest that the economy is recovering from the massive shock that engulfed it in 2011, when the debt crisis threatened to topple everything,” Tore Stramer, a Nykredit senior economist, told Jyllands-Posten newspaper. “But that didn’t happen, and we can see growth in the fourth quarter. Hopefully that means consumers will begin spending again.”

Other bankers are less optimistic.

“We have entered 2012 with a frozen housing market and no signs of a thaw,” said Lone Kjærgaard, chief economist at  Arbejdernes Landsbank. “As it appears now, the sun wonÂ’t shine on the job market in 2012. A look at the crystal ball will prompt many to steer clear of major economic risks and just hunker down.”

Indeed, Danske Bank calculated that the average Danish family – with two children, a flat and one car – has 500 kroner less in disposable income than it did in 2010.

“A majority of the population is realising that their salaries can’t keep up with price increases, which hurts their real income level,” said Lars Olsen.

Private sector employees witnessed their smallest wage increases in 45 years in 2011. Public sector wage increases were even lower.

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