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Will Donald Trump’s Win Ruin Christmas for Retailers?

The Motley Fool Contributor
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Before the election, the nation held holiday spending in check, waiting to see whether Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton would claim the White House. That was partly due to uncertainty and partly because the race for president sucked up attention — and ad space — that otherwise would have gone to the beginning of the biggest shopping season of the year.

“Everywhere you turn — whether you’re picking up a newspaper or watching television — political advertisements are taking up ad space that retailers typically use to get holiday shopping on the minds of consumers across the country,” National Retail Federation (NRF) CEO Matthew Shay said in a press release.

Partly because of the slow start expected in November shopping, the NRF annual consumer spending survey conducted by Prosper Insights & Analytics forecast that the average American would spend $935.58 during the holiday shopping season, down from 2015’s record $952.58. (That numbers includes gifts, food, decorations, and other holiday-related purchases). And while a year-to-year drop is never great, forecasts for the second-highest spending year of all time still gave retailers reason to cheer.

That forecast, however, assumed that the election’s impact would fade and things would return to normal. A new study from Consumer Reports shows that the effects of the election are apparently lingering, and that could be bad news for retailers.


People may spend less on gifts this year than previously expected. Image source: Getty Images.

What impact is Trump’s win having?

On the positive side for retailers, with the election (at least the actual voting) behind us, 60% of Americans say it had no effect on their holiday mood, according to the Consumer Reports survey. More than one fifth (22%), however, said that it “made their mood more negative,” while 19% “said it made their holiday mood more positive.”

And while it would be easy to blame the negative number on the president-elect, it’s worth nothing that Consumer Reports said itasked the same question on a survey before the election and the result was 21% negative/4% positive. That suggests that — since most would consider Trump’s win a surprise — about one in five Americans were going to be down on the result no matter who won.

Consumer Reports’ survey found that Americans plan to spend a median of $468 on holiday gifts this year. That’s 17% less than what they expected to spend in the magazine’s previous poll taken in October/November and less what was spent in 2015.

Did Donald Trump ruin Christmas?

While billionaires have a long literary tradition of ruining (or least trying to ruin) Christmas, should Trump be blamed for people adjusting their expected spending down? A percentage of the American public does remain wary about the impact the incoming president will have on the economy. That likely would have been true had Clinton won, but her track record as a politician likely would have brought less uncertainty than what has come with Trump’s win. And while for some the “negative mood,” comes from partisan reasons, for others it’s likely simply reasonable concerns based on not knowing what’s going to be happen.

And while television has cast sour-faced grumps/rich guys/Republicans from Mr. Burns to Scrooge McDuck to Alex P. Keaton to Oscar Madison to Fred Sanford as an Ebenezer Scrooge stand-in, in this case the top hat and perma-scowl do not fit. Trump isn’t forcing us all to work on Christmas morning.

If Trump’s election is putting a damper on the Christmas spending season for some, it’s partly because the president-elect has made every effort to be unpredictable, which will likely cause some people to keep their money for a rainy day.

Trump isn’t the Grinch stealing Christmas, but he is a president-elect with no history in politics who just won a contentious election. That’s more than enough to spook some shoppers, which means bad news for retailers given that the holiday season takes place before any questions can be answered about how Trump will perform once in office.

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Daniel Kline owned a copy of Trump’s board game in the late 1980s. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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