MasterCard (MA) just released holiday sales figures and it's not pretty. Sales increased 0.7%, the worst since the depths of the 2008 recession. ShopperTrak chipped away at estimates before Christmas (reduced to 2.5% from 3.3%), but clearly not enough.
Warning to investors: Never assign much weight to the statistic gatherers' estimates; they typically tell you what time it is hours after you've asked.
The bad news is in line with our Super Saturday "Facial Distortion Indicator" (we ask sales associates about business and see if their faces distort or if they fail to convince us of retail cheer), which was off the charts this past weekend.
Saks (SKS) was the most obvious retailer in pain. Sales associates suggested this was worst holiday in 15 years -- and we spoke with veterans. Most seemed desperate to find a reason why the trend will pick up. Was Sandy, Newtown and the fiscal cliff enough to keep consumers sitting this one out?
Tiffany & Co. (TIF) was far from super during this year's Super Saturday. Sales associates were actually available on the silver floor. Typically, it's five people deep just to flag someone to take your money.
And it wasn't just the high-end, fiscal-cliff-sensitive crowd making faces, it was Zara, Gap (GPS) and H&M, too. As for the teen retailers, let's just say the club wasn't busy behind Abercrombie & Fitch's (ANF) velvet ropes -- and I'm talking about the New York and London flagship stores.
This year was supposed to be a slam-dunk -- lower input costs, easy comparisons -- and margins were impossible to look worse right? The Grinch says wrong.
Happy bargain hunting.