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Tiffany Montgomery
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Retailers are cautious about holiday, think consumer spending will continue to lag

By Tiffany Montgomery
September 14, 2009 6:00 AM

There is an interesting study out today about how retailers are approaching the holiday season and business in general as consumer spending continues to be weak.

The study is by CIT and Forbes Insights. Here are some details, including that retailers did not cut inventories enough in the first half of the year.

Retailers and Suppliers Expect Consumer Spending to Trail Financial Markets Recovery

Upcoming Holiday Season Eyed with Caution as Industry Continues To Manage Slow Moving Inventory

NEW YORK--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Faced with one of the most challenging years on record, retailers and those who supply them believe that consumer spending will lag the turnaround of the U.S. financial markets. According to a new study released today by CIT Group Inc. (NYSE:CIT), a leading provider of financing to small businesses and middle market companies, 47% of retail respondents believe the financial markets will turn around next year; separately, 45% believe that consumer spending will not return to 2007 levels until 2011 or 2012.

The continuing softness in the retail market has caused many retailers to reevaluate and adjust their business models. They are taking a more conservative and cautious approach to the upcoming holiday season by controlling their inventories, and are planning more aggressive discounts earlier in the season. Other key findings among retail respondents include:

67% will stock less inventory than in 2008;

69% will expand online and direct selling;

56% will advertise more aggressively;

66% will offer greater discounts; and

68% will hold clearance and other sales prior to New Year's Day.

The research report, "U.S. Small and Middle Market Outlook 2009: Retailers and Suppliers Take Stock of Economic Downturn," examines how retailers and their suppliers are navigating through the current financial crisis. It is the third in a series of four studies that Forbes Insights has produced this year in association with CIT.

"These results corroborate what we have been hearing anecdotally from the marketplace," said Burt Feinberg, Managing Director and Industry Group Head of Retail Finance at CIT. "Many retailers continue to be concerned about consumer demand and are following conservative inventory and pricing tactics in anticipation of the upcoming holiday season, trying to maintain liquidity, so that they can be better positioned for what is hopefully resumption in consumer spending in 2010."

Jon Lucas, Executive Vice President and Chief Sales Officer of Trade Finance at CIT, said, "The decline in consumer spending has trickled down from retailers to the manufacturers and vendors that supply them. Many of these suppliers are managing through this business cycle by cutting expenses, imposing more stringent credit terms on their retail customers, and doing less business with slow paying retailers. In addition, many have turned to factoring and credit protection services to protect the value of their accounts receivable, if they do not already have those relationships in place."

Noteworthy findings:

Cautiously awaiting the return of consumer confidence. While half of middle-market retailers saw their revenues decline over the past 12 months, 41% expect their revenues to grow over the next year. However, growth rates may be tempered by consumer spending issues; only about one-third (32%) indicated that they expect consumer spending to reach 2007 levels in 2010, while nearly 45% thought it would take at least until 2011 or 2012 for such spending to resume, and 17% said it would occur after 2012.

Cutting costs and conserving cash. In light of the economic downturn, retailers have had to alter their strategies. Forty-six percent have reduced their staff levels, 42% halted planned expansions, 29% delayed store renovations, 29% re-merchandised their shelves, and 21% closed stores. In addition, 40% renegotiated their rent and 38% received other concessions from their landlords.

Increased M&A activity on the horizon. Nearly half (48%) of all respondents expect M&A activity to increase over the next 12 months. They believe that the primary drivers of M&A activity will be the greater availability of credit (34%), reduced valuations (32%) and the need for weaker companies to merge (26%).

Inventory issues: Many retailers have already reduced their inventory levels -43% indicated that their current inventory levels are lower or significantly lower than they were a year ago. The cuts may not be deep enough; as nearly half (48%) of respondents said that they should have carried less inventory during the first half of 2009. The end result: 46% of retailers have cut prices in order to accelerate inventory turns.

Retailer bankruptcies impacting suppliers. Two-thirds (66%) of suppliers have been affected by a retail customer bankruptcy and 59% expect additional retail bankruptcies in the next 12 months. In addition, 23% of suppliers said that they are using factoring and credit insurance more to protect themselves from possible customer bankruptcies.

Managing customer relationships. To protect their businesses, more than half (60%) of suppliers are doing less business with retail customers with weak finances; 60% are monitoring their accounts receivable more closely; 54% are imposing more stringent credit terms and 39% are requiring deposits for new customers. At the same time, 30% are offering incentives to retail customers who pay early.

Middle market companies, a key component of the U.S. economy, account for more than $6 trillion in sales and employ almost 32 million Americans. U.S. small businesses employ nearly 59 million Americans (approximately half of all private-sector jobs), constitute approximately 97% of all identified exporters, and produce approximately 29% of the known export value.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Complimentary copies of the report are available for download at http://middlemarket.cit.com.

About the Report
The information in the U.S. Small and Middle Market Outlook 2009: Retailers and Suppliers Take Stock of Economic Downturn is based on the results of two surveys and a series of one-on-one interviews conducted by Forbes Insights in July and August 2009.
The first survey questioned 110 executives and financial decision makers at middle market retailers. All companies had revenues of $25 million to $1 billion. Respondents represented a broad range of retail segments, including specialty apparel, consumer electronics, appliances, sporting goods, convenience stores, housewares, and discount chains. All respondents held senior-level titles (including CEO, COO, CFO, and VP) and had functional responsibility for finance, strategy and business development, or general management.

The second survey queried 104 executives and financial decision makers at suppliers to the middle market retailer sector. All companies had revenues of $2 million to $1 billion; slightly under half weighed in at less than $50 million. These suppliers represented a broad range of market segments, including apparel and accessories, consumer electronics, housewares, footwear, home furnishings, and other retail. All respondents held senior-level titles (including CEO, COO, CFO, and VP) and/or held functional responsibility for a business unit or department. Over half were either a CEO or owner. The interviewees were not clients of CIT.

Individuals interested in receiving future updates on CIT via e-mail can register at http://newsalerts.cit.com

About CIT
CIT (NYSE:CIT) is a bank holding company with more than $60 billion in finance and leasing assets that provides financial products and advisory services to small and middle market businesses. Operating in more than 50 countries across 30 industries, CIT provides an unparalleled combination of relationship, intellectual, and financial capital to its customers worldwide. CIT maintains leadership positions in small business and middle market lending, retail finance, aerospace, equipment and rail leasing, and vendor finance. Founded in 1908 and headquartered in New York City, CIT is a member of the Fortune 500. www.cit.com

About Forbes Insights
Forbes Insights is the custom research practice of Forbes Media, publisher of Forbes magazine and Forbes.com, whose combined media properties reach nearly 50 million business decision makers worldwide on a monthly basis. Taking advantage of a proprietary database of senior-level executives in the Forbes community, Forbes Insights' research covers a wide range of vital business issues, including talent management, corporate social responsibility, financial benchmarking, risk and regulation, and doing business in emerging markets. www.forbes.com/forbesinsight


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