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Casey Is Upbeat As High Point Market Begins

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On the eve of the 2006 High Point Market, Brian Casey, president of the High Point Market, is upbeat, and with good reason. Consumer confidence in the U.S. is charting better than many economists expected this month as gasoline prices fall and stocks rise, and it appears spending may be gaining momentum as retailers head into the all-important holiday shopping season. With last-minute preparations underway as High Point readies for its Market guests, this is good news for all of Market’s stakeholders. “We’ve been making tremendous strides as we work to improve the High Point Market experience,” Casey notes, “but, as we all know, the macro-economic picture can greatly impact the mood of buyers heading to High Point. For that reason, the recent slide in gasoline prices and encouraging reports Concerning consumer confidence are welcome news for retailers across the country and for all of our exhibitors this week.” Among other positive indicators, Casey points to news reports citing The University of Michigan's preliminary index of consumer sentiment, which jumped to 92.3, the highest since July 2005, from 85.4 in September. The gain, the best showing in more than a year, was propelled by increasing optimism over the current state of the economy. Lynn Franco, director of The Conference Board Consumer Research Center, says, “A more favorable assessment of current conditions coupled with a less pessimistic short-term outlook, boosted consumer confidence this month.” “The Stock Market is telling us that things are improving too,” says industry analyst Wallace (Jerry) Epperson, managing director of Mann, Armistead & Epperson. “The Stock Market is also telling us that interest rates are about to dive and that would be extremely good for housing activity. Reports are that the worst of the housing decline is behind us, and the pick-up in housing could be extremely positive for the industry next year.” “Consumers are registering greater confidence in the economy and consumer expectations are the basis for action, lower price, more cash and greater spend,” reports Joe Pilotta, vice president of research for BIGresearch, a market intelligence firm providing analysis of consumer behavior. Additionally, Casey says, “The National Retail Federation has just reported that retail industry sales last month rose a strong 6.3 percent unadjusted over last year, and increased. 0.7 percent seasonally adjusted from August. The gains, which led third quarter sales to rise 6.3 percent over 2005, were stronger than the NRF had been expecting, and that’s tremendous news for everyone heading to High Point.” Says Rosalind Wells, chief economist for the NRF, “As gas prices dipped last month, consumers had more disposable income to spend on other items. If September’s sales are any indication, shoppers appear confident heading into the holiday season.” Last month’s sales gains were led by clothing and clothing accessories stores, which saw sales rise 3.0 percent adjusted from August and an impressive 11.9 percent over last year. Sporting goods, book, hobby and music stores also saw strong growth of 1.1 percent from August and 9.1 percent over last year. More importantly, strong year-over-year gains were seen at furniture and home furnishings stores (4.8 percent). Sums Epperson, “It’s been a difficult year to this point; housing activities have been down and many consumers have been refinancing adjustable rate mortgages. As an industry, we’ve also had a problem this year with too much inventory at retail. The first half was indeed disappointing. But the tide appears to be turning and we think the most important thing this Market is for retailers to differentiate themselves. The key now is not to show the same product that everyone else is showing.”

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