Crowded US parking lots hint at Black Friday sales

* Mall parking lots 35 percent full in recent weeks

* More stable prices should help holiday sales – analyst

By Jon Lentz

NEW YORK, Nov 24 (BestGrowthStock) – More Americans will be out
shopping this year on Black Friday — or at least that’s how it
looks from outer space.

Satellite images from Remote Sensing Metrics show more cars
parked outside shopping malls across the country in the weeks
leading up to Thanksgiving, and increasingly crowded parking
lots usually mean higher sales.

This year 35 percent of parking spaces have been filled
since mid-September on average, compared with 31 to 32 percent
the previous two years, according to the data analyzed by
Thomson Reuters.

This past Saturday, the last before Black Friday, the
figure had risen to 42.3 percent, compared with 36.5 percent in
2009 and 30.6 percent in 2008

“If that trend continues, it’s pretty likely that we’re
going to see stronger traffic,” said Thomson Reuters analyst
Jharonne Martis-Olivo. “Inflation is flat, so we might have
stronger retail sales.” For complete holiday season coverage,

Black Friday, which falls on Nov. 26 this year, is a key
date for retailers, representing the traditional
post-Thanksgiving kickoff to the holiday shopping season.

Retailers from Macy’s Inc (M.N: ) to Best Buy Co Inc (BBY.N: )
try to lure shoppers through “door-buster” discounts, but some
prices could be higher this year on items like groceries and
luxury goods, Martis-Olivo said.

That should prevent a year like 2008, when traffic was high
on Black Friday but sales in dollar terms declined as the worst
financial crisis in decades drove retailers to slash prices.

The Thomson Reuters data echo estimates from the National
Retail Federation, which said that nearly 60 million Americans
plan to hit the stores over the weekend, while an additional 78
million might join the crowds of shoppers. The total number of
possible shoppers is 4 million more than forecast last year.

Total retail same-store sales for the fourth quarter, which
includes the holiday season, are expected to rise by 1.5
percent this year, up from an 0.6 percent increase in 2009,
according to Thomson Reuters data.

By sector, some of the strongest same-store sales are
predicted for discount chains, up 2 percent; footwear at 2.7
percent; jewelry at 3.5 percent; and home furnishings at 4.2

The NRF has forecast a 2.3 percent increase in sales this
year for the November-December period, up from 0.4 percent for
the same period in 2009.

The Thomson Reuters analysis was based on more than 500
satellite observations of car counts from Remote Sensing
(Reporting by Jon Lentz; Editing by Michele Gershberg and
Gerald E. McCormick)

Crowded US parking lots hint at Black Friday sales