Holiday shopping decline reversed

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Norwegians have opened their wallets in the past week and reversed what had been a decline in sales during retailers’ important Christmas shopping season. Now things are looking brighter for merchants, who collectively are registering a healthy increase over last year.

Retailers have suddenly seen a rise in Christmas shopping. Shown here, the venerable "GlasMagasinet" department store in downtown Oslo, now part of a shopping center inside the historic building, with the city's open-air flower market in the foreground. PHOTO: John Smith, for Views and News

Newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) reported that new statistics from Nets, which handles bank card transactions, now show sales running 4.5 percent ahead of last year. That’s up from a 1.8 percent decline in sales reported by mid-December.

Nets could also report a new record in use of debit and credit cards last weekend. Sales so far in December have amounted to more than NOK 30 billion, a new record.

“It was a hectic weekend for the merchants and we have never before handled so many card transactions in the course of a weekend, Sigbjørn Larsen of Nets told DN.

Larsen also expects a new record when Norwegians do their grocery shopping during the next two days. “The 22nd and 23rd are traditionally the days with the most card purchases, and we think that will be the same this year,” he said.

DN reported that Norway’s 12 largest shopping centers are also registering solid increases during the past week, after being worried by unusually quiet days earlier in the month. It seems Norwegians simply held off on their shopping this year. Last week’s reduction in interest rates may also have helped spur consumers into action, not least after the central bank (Norges Bank) and several economists urged a bit more shopping to keep the economy vigorous.

The recent upturn in retail sales, though, hasn’t entirely brightened economic predictions.

“We can’t avoid the fact that economic development has been weaker than Norges Bank had expected,” Katrine Godding Boye, chief analyst at Nordea Markets, told DN. She noted that last week’s interest rate cut hasn’t been followed by reductions in home mortgage rates, so most households haven’t directly benefited, at least not yet.

“I don’t think we’ve had many indications that consumption growth is very strong,” Boye said. “There’s still no shopping rush in Norway now.”

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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