Money Daily Brief: Thin holidays for US retailers

US holiday sales are expected to fall 1 percent, the National Retail Federation says.

Mike Segar/Reuters/File
Things were so tough last year that this Santa had to carry his own bags in New York City. US holiday sales, which fell 3.4 percent in 2008, are expected to fall 1 percent this year, according to a new report.

– Updated 3:30 p.m. (20:30 UTC)

•Holiday gloom: With unemployment near 10 percent and consumer confidence sinking, holiday retail sales in the US will probably drop 1 percent, an industry report predicted. That's not as sharp as last year's 3.4 percent drop, the first decrease since the National Retail Federation began tracking November-December sales in 1995.

•No dollars for oil? The greenback fell broadly against other currencies after a British paper said that Gulf Arab states are in secret international talks to eventually stop pricing oil in dollars and use a basket of currencies instead. Saudi Arabia denied it held such talks.

•Aussie rebound: Australia's central bank raised its key interest rate to 3.25 percent, the first Group of 20 nation to hike rates. Federal Treasurer Wayne Swan said more rate rises lie ahead, even as policymakers around the world warn against premature optimism. Stock markets surged on the news. So did commodities as the dollar slumped. (For a look at interest rates around the world, click on the chart above right.)

•Wheels up: Singapore Air and Hong Kong's Cathay Pacific are luring more travelers by slashing fares, but that just masks poor profits. This comes amid signs in the US that ticket prices may be stabilizing. The International Air Transportation Association said last month airlines worldwide may lose $11 billion this year.

•In my backyard: South Korea announced plans to spend 30 percent more next year on economic cooperation with North Korea, boosting its budget to nearly $340 million. A large chunk of that will be spent on the Kaesong complex, a joint factory park on northern soil. Meanwhile, Pyongyang appeared to be covering all its bases, restoring its nuclear facilities while telling China it may conditionally return to six-nation disarmament talks.

-- Ben Hancock is a Monitor contributor based in Seoul. For a look at the magazine industry's awful year, click on Ten biggest magazines closing in 2009.

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