Holiday Sales to be Up 4.5%

Holiday sales are expected to increase 4.5 percent over last year, according to a survey of two dozen retail industry analysts conducted by the International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC) for the fourth consecutive year.

The analysts’ estimates ranged from +2.5 percent to +7.0 percent, although more than two thirds estimated a year-over-year increase of 4 or 5 percent, or the range of 4 to 5 percent.

“The analysts confirm what we’ve been hearing from shopping center executives over the past few weeks: that it’s going to be a very good holiday season,” said John Konarski, vice president of research for ICSC. “The economy is still strong and consumer confidence remains high.”

In addition to a seasonal prediction, the analysts were asked to identify the most popular merchandise categories, the type of retailer that will capture the most sales, and factors most likely to restrain consumer spending. Questions included:

1. How popular do you believe the following merchandise categories will be in terms of gift giving this season?

Extremely Moderately Not
Popular Popular Popular

Clothing, shoes and
accessories 27% 64% 9%
Jewelry 64% 32% 4%
Household items, such as
glassware, linens, appliances 9% 82% 9%
Furniture 5% 33% 62%
Computers, computer-related
products 23% 68% 9%
Other electronic items, such
as TVs, stereos 5% 59% 36%
Entertainment products, such
as CDs, videos,
video games 45.5% 45.5% 9%
Books, magazines 32% 59% 9%
Recreation items, such as
camping gear and sports
equipment 27% 64% 9%
Toys 77% 18% 5%

Toys and jewelry are expected to be the most popular gift items this season, with toys selected by 77% of the analysts, and jewelry selected by 64%. The analysts were split on whether entertainment products such as CDs, videos and video games will be extremely or moderately popular this season, with each option selected by nearly half (45.5% each) of the respondents. However, a majority of analysts (62%) agree that furniture will not be a popular gift item this season.

Household items, such as glassware, linens and appliances (82%), computers, computer-related products (68%), clothing, shoes and accessories, as well as recreation items, such as camping gear and sports equipment (64% each) should be moderately popular, reported a majority of analysts. In addition, books and magazines and electronic items such as TVs and stereos (59% each) were rated moderately popular by the analysts.

2. How much share of total holiday sales will each of the following retail formats likely capture?

Large Share Moderate Share Small Share

Department stores 52% 38% 10%
Discount stores 95% 5% 0%
Specialty stores 30% 50% 20%
Factory outlets 10% 38% 52%
Warehouse clubs 0% 48% 52%
On-line (Web-based) 5% 24% 71%
retailers
Mail order catalogs, 33% 48% 19%
TV shopping channels

This year, a staggering 95% of analysts expect discount stores (meaning discount department stores, off-price merchants and close-out stores) to capture a large share of holiday sales, while 52% expect department stores to gain a major share.

In response to which particular retailers within each category are expected to capture a major share of holiday sales, analysts were most optimistic about Wal-Mart and Target, which were mentioned seven times and five times, respectively. Next came Federated and Gap, with four mentions each, and Sears and Costco, with three. While the majority of analysts (71%) do not expect on-line retailing to account for a large share of holiday sales, three analysts mentioned Amazon.com as a company likely to capture a major share of sales. Retailers mentioned by two analysts include J.C. Penney, Abercrombie & Fitch, and L.L. Bean.

3. How do you expect shoppers to pay for the holiday purchases compared to last year?

More than About the same Less than
last year as last year last year

Cash/check/debit cards 32% 45% 23%
Major credit cards 59% 32% 9%
Store issued credit
cards 33% 33% 33%

The majority of analysts (59%) expect consumers to use major credit cards more than they did last year to fund their holiday purchases this season.

4. Do you believe that one or more of the following will restrain consumer spending this holiday season?

Consumer debt 68%
Concerns about financial market volatility 41%
Desire to put money in savings 36%
Other (Describe) See below

Additional factors that could restrain holiday spending, according to the analysts, are: a Mid-East standoff with Iraq, weather conditons, consumer confidence, secularization of Christmas, early holiday shoppers, who have completed their purchases before Thanksgiving when seasonal sales are usually tallied, and sales that take place post-holiday.

The International Council of Shopping Centers ([www.icsc.org][1]) is the not-for-profit trade association of the shopping center industry, representing more than 35,000 members in U.S., Canada, and over 70 other countries.

[1]: http://www.icsc.org

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Unifi PRO Consumer

Fiserv UniFi Products has announced the release of two new consumer lending solutions, Unifi PRO Consumer and UniFi Express Consumer.

Windows(TM)-compliant and client/server, these high volume, direct and indirect loan delivery systems will be unveiled at the BAI Retail Delivery Show in New Orleans Dec. 2 to 4. The primary difference between the products is the ability for the end user to customize the application. UniFi PRO is equipped with PowerTools(TM) for a customized user setup, whereas UniFi Express comes ready-to-use.

“We’re excited about the potential that UniFi will give consumer lenders,” said John F. Saelens, Fiserv UniFi Products SVP of Business Development. “The combination of UniFi’s state-of-the-art technology and robust feature/functionality gives financial organizations the ability to strategically position themselves to take advantage of the consumer lending market.”

Among the business benefits UniFi PRO Consumer and UniFi Express Consumer provide are:

Sound Technological Investment. UniFi is a Windows-compliant, client/server solution. The system is scalable on multiple platforms, ensuring performance regardless of changes in number of users or configuration. The solid architecture of the system — a fourth generation, object-oriented programming language: a robust relational database management system — allows for easy integration of new technology.

Ease of use. A GUI application, UniFi utilizes pull-down menus, icons, pick lists, lookup tables and online help. The system’s workflows guide users through the application process, while work queues alert users to the work they have waiting. The system’s notepad allows users to store comments and notes with the application, and its built-in income calculator lets users solve for gross income.

Complete business solution. UniFi supports the complete range of consumer loan products, including auto, motorcycle, RV, home improvement, home equity, second mortgages, Section 32 loans, mobile home, credit card, lines-of-credit, deposit-secured, boat loans and more. A flexible, advanced, risk-based pricing component allows product-based lending rates to be applied at the application level. These components supply the base structure lenders need to support their business.

Enhancing the product support are user-defined parameters that reduce data entry and expedite the application process, along with fast and efficient links to business partners. At the same time, features like system calculations and automatic document production, where the system analyzes the application to determine what documents to produce, transfer the decision process from the operator to the system. This increases speed, gives the client organization more control, ensures accuracy and reduces the learning curve. Other efficiency tools, such as workflows, work queues and event tracking, move the application through the origination process, ensuring that the application gets the appropriate operator attention.

Flexible standard document coding is packaged with the base system and the capability for creating custom documents is also featured. In addition, a graphical report generator, Crystal Reports, is utilized to allow user-generated custom reports. With the open architecture of the database, these documents and reports can pull data from any field the client chooses.

Screen, menu and workflow control. UniFi PRO Consumer includes the PowerTools package, which gives organizations powerful customization tools to adapt the system so that it works the way that is most effective for them. Utilizing UniFi’s menu and screen editors, users can create new workflows and screens with simple point, click, drop and drag design. Event tracking, work queues and fields can also be customized.

The ability to “upsell” the loan. UniFi Consumer allows the lender to approve the loan for the maximum amount, regardless of the original amount requested. For example, if an individual requests a $5,000 loan for a used car but the collateral data shows that the user has equity for up to $25,000, Unifi will approve up to $25,000. This allows the loan officer to upsell the loan, cross-sell other loan products and proceed with the requested $5,000 loan.

Risk Based Pricing. UniFi advances risk based pricing beyond accepting or declining an application; it also allows organizations to accept and compensate to adjust for risk. This is accomplished through the system’s open architecture, which gives clients the flexibility to adjust loan pricing for any characteristic of the applicant or loan. Lenders can access credit bureaus, download the data they choose and store it. The data, combined with borrower and collateral data collected from the customer, is used to assign individual pricing. UniFi’s risk based pricing system allows lenders to adjust their pricing to accept B and C credit applications while compensating the organization for its increased risk exposure.

Performance controls. At the executive level, UniFi stores a comprehensive library of credit risk results, allowing client organizations to analyze and adjust credit quality to improve performance. At the management level, work prioritization tools and work queuing statistics allow managers to monitor and track performance.

A single vendor solution for loan delivery. In addition to the UniFi Consumer products, Fiserv UniFi Products offers UniFi Express Mortgage and UniFi PRO Mortgage, the leading client/server solutions for mortgage originations. By utilizing a single UniFi solution, organizations can cross-train their mortgage and consumer personnel to leverage staffing resources and consolidate support areas.

Already in use by more than 1,000 professionals at one of the nation’s largest B&C home equity lenders, UniFi PRO Consumer has been tested and proven in even the largest of workplaces. Its sister product, UniFi PRO Mortgage, is currently implemented at more than 40 client sites with more than 14,000 user seats sold nationwide. It is the leading client/server solution for mortgage originations.

UniFi PRO is sold through the direct sales force of Fiserv UniFi Products. UniFi Express is sold through a network of value added resellers, including First American Title/Lenders Advantage and EDS.

Fiserv Inc. is a full-service provider of data processing systems and information management services and products to over 5,000 banks, credit unions, mortgage firms and savings institutions worldwide. A publicly held company headquartered in Brookfield, Wis., Fiserv Inc. stock is traded on the NASDAQ over-the-counter market under the symbol FISV.

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Easing Holiday Pressure

The candy corn was barely off the shelves and the Plastic Halloween pumpkins relegated to the sale bins this year when the stores were festooned with Christmas adornments.

The pressure to shop — early and often — is on.

Shoppers expect to spend a total of $1,233 this holiday season, with an average of $879 being spent on gifts, according to the 1997 American Express Retail Index guide that polled more than 800 consumers. Overall holiday spending will be up 6 percent over last year, the poll also reveals.

American Express Financial Advisors, the financial planning arm of American Express, offers consumers some tips to survive the shopping sagas — and to help your budget emerge relatively unscathed:

— It sounds basic, but create a budget and stick with it. Many people set their budget and forget to plan for the “little things” outside the realm of gifts — wrapping paper, candles, cards and the costs of entertaining family and friends.

— Start early and do your shopping in spurts, considering two to three people on your list at a time. Shopping late can lead to panic and the risk of buying anything in sight, just to get the job done. By spacing out the task, you can ponder each person on your list personally and purchase a more meaningful gift — at a more realistic price.

— Think creatively. Some parents have won raves from their kids by devising homemade “coupons” that take the place of store-bought gifts. The coupons are tied to special activities, such as playing games with Mom, a visit from Dad to your child’s school for a special program or a day set aside for the child to learn how to be taught how to ride a bike or bake bread.

— Avoid the temptation to give in to the “buy-now-no-payment-until- February” enticements. Come February, a spate of fresh bills may not be a welcome sight. (And there’s always Valentine’s Day to think about.)

— Check out the consignment shops — now a trendy passion for many Americans. You may find that otherwise expensive designer sweater, jacket, purse or scarf for just the right person who appreciates a value.

— Hate crowds? Try cruising the “information superhighway.” According to the American Express consumer poll, some 6 percent of holiday shoppers expect to shop for gifts online, twice as many as last year.

— It’s becoming quite fashionable to be savvy about investing instead of “spending.” Some financial services companies are now packaging their products in ways that attract young investors. American Express Financial Advisors offers a mutual fund as part of its “Kids, Parents and Money” program that teaches kids and parents about saving and the stock market. The minimum $50 per month investment in this savings vehicle that invests in “kid friendly” companies like McDonald’s and Disney may be a great gift from parents and/or grandparents.

— Procrastination may not be all bad. Under the right circumstances, such as when extended family members don’t get together until after the holidays, you could hit the stores for the post-holiday sales. In fact, according to the American Express poll, 36 percent of adults say they shop for gifts after the holiday to take advantage of sales or because they didn’t plan to see the recipient until after the holidays.

— Reward yourself. By taking advantage of credit card rebate and reward programs that offer points for travel and merchandise, you can add even more value to your holiday spending. And features such as Purchase Protection or Buyer’s Assurance through credit cards can protect your purchases against damage or theft and can extend the warranty. If you do decide to use credit cards, it’s always best to make more than the minimum payment each month.

American Express Financial Advisors is one of the largest financial planning and money management companies in the U.S. with assets owned or managed of more than $162 billion. Formerly known as IDS, the 103-year-old company offers a comprehensive range of financial services through more than 8,500 financial advisors nationwide.

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CompuServe’s Holiday Headquarters

CompuServe offers a simplified approach to the holidays this season: CSi’s Holiday Headquarters. A special community highlighting online areas, Holiday Headquarters lets busy professionals take care of their holiday needs.

Sponsored by Windows 95, CSi’s Holiday Headquarters lets shoppers avoid long lines and short tempers by shopping worry-free at CompuServe’s online shops. All stores support a security protocol that helps safeguard members’ credit card information. To help shoppers find the best gifts quickly, Holiday Headquarters offers a gift guide with a colorful directory of online shops stocked with presents for family, friends, clients and coworkers, and organized by categories such as “The Toy Shoppe,” “Media Corner,” “Gourmet Gifts & Baskets,” “The CompuServe Flower Shoppe by FTD” and “Gifts Under $25.”

American Greetings’ Web site, accessible from CSi’s Holiday Headquarters, offers an extensive catalog of holiday cards, where shoppers can send a personalized message or a scanned graphic image using Add-a-Photo(TM) cards. Also available are personalized onscreen wishes with downloadable Animated Greetings(TM) cards.

Simplified shopping allows busy professionals more time to explore the wealth of holiday content available at CompuServe’s CSi Holiday Headquarters. Dinner party ideas and software specials are among the many offerings designed to add enjoyment to the season.

Following are categories included in Holiday Headquarters:

* Holiday Trip Planning — Features the “Hot Deals List,” a listing of all current travel deals for CSi members; a reservations area for booking flights, renting cars or reserving lodging; and the Travel Forum, where members can discover new destinations and get tips from other travelers and travel experts.

* Movies, Music & More — Contains a comprehensive listing of the best holiday movies, classic videos, TV shows, books and magazines, and a chance to vote on the “best of 1997.”

* Holiday Fun & Traditions — Allows CSi members to take a break from holiday pressures with games, contests and conversations with friends around the globe.

* Entertainment Ideas — Provides at-home holiday ideas, including decorating advice, creative crafts, Christmas cookies and healthy holiday meals.

CSi members can access Holiday Headquarters by using the GO HOLIDAY command.

Founded in 1969, CompuServe Incorporated provides the world’s most comprehensive online/Internet access through its two brands, CSi and SPRYNET. Through CompuServe, its Japanese licensee NIFTY- Serve and its affiliates around the world, more than 5 million home and business users in more than 185 countries are connected online and to the Internet. CompuServe Network Services, a leading network integrator, provides more than 1,200 companies around the world with complete, fully integrated, Internet, Intranet, and Extranet connectivity solutions. With world headquarters in Columbus, Ohio, the CompuServe organization includes offices in the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Switzerland and the Netherlands.

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Stogie VISA

First USA and Consolidated Cigar Corp. teamed up yesterday to roll out three new platinum cards targeted at the cigar aficionado. The ‘Montecristo’, ‘H. Upmann’ and ‘Cigar Lover’s’ Platinum VISA cards will carry First USA’s flagship pricing: no annual fee; 5.9% intro rate and 13.99% long-term rate. New cardholders will receive a free pack of premium handmade cigars from the Montecristo, U. Upmann and Don Diego brand shortly after the initial card use. Other incentives include discounts on premium cigar accessories from companies such as Budd Leather, Prometheus and Bollman Hat. Consolidated has about a 25% share of the U.S. cigar market.

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Smart ATMs

NCR and CIBC are jointly testing a new smart ATM that allows consumers to check movie listings and purchase tickets using an NCR terminal. The ‘NCR Smart ATM’ will also dispense concert tickets and bus passes. NCR is also introducing a new high-tech fraud detection system incorporating special paper. NCR also unveiled this week a new 2-way video kiosk being used to provide consumers with information on Cincinnati Bell’s communication services.

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Call for Antitrust Investigation

Appearing at a Senate Banking and Insurance Committee hearing to urge support for legislation (SB 21) that would outlaw ATM surcharge fees in Pennsylvania, Sen. Leonard J. Bodack (D-Allegheny) today revealed that he was also seeking a federal antitrust probe into what he termed “a monopolistic, unfair business practice.”

In a letter to U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno, Bodack requested a Department of Justice investigation into the “anti-competitive aspect” of the ATM surcharge practice.

For more than a year, Bodack and his Allegheny County colleague, Sen. Albert V. “Bud” Belan, have been trying to secure favorable action in the Republican-controlled Senate on legislation to stop banks from charging ATM customers an extra fee when they use an ATM not owned by their own bank.

Bodack, and other ATM surcharge opponents, point out that financial institutions already are paid a network interchange fee to cover the cost of ATM service to customers whose accounts are with other institutions, and that the surcharge is an excessive “double charge,” for the same service.

Bodack, the Senate Democratic Whip, also says the ATM surcharge is being used by the largest financial institutions to stifle competition. After buying into a shared network ATM strategy over the past 20 years, hundreds of smaller community-based banks, savings institutions and credit unions are being hurt badly by the surcharge, Bodack argues. The large banks, which own the most ATMs, are using the surcharge as part of an unfair business practice to entice small bank and credit union depositors to become big bank customers, he adds.

In his letter to Reno requesting an antitrust investigation, Bodack noted that some 75 percent of an estimated 4,200 MAC ATMs in Pennsylvania are owned by just four large banks — all of which surcharge. Three of those four large banks are also equity owners of the MAC network, the predominant ATM network in Pennsylvania.

“Certainly, one would assume that a fair, free and competitive market for banking services would enable consumers to enjoy greater choices and reduced costs. Instead, since the advent of the ATM surcharge, all we’ve seen is a reduction in consumer options and ever-increasing and higher fees,” Bodack wrote.

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Delinquencies Stabilize Too

Credit card delinquencies posted its seventh consecutive month of stable performance, rising just two basis points to 3.38% in November, according to the ‘Fitch Credit Card Performance Index’. Fitch cites issuers’ proactive approach towards delinquent cardholders and tighter underwriting as key factors helping to offset the rise in bankruptcies.

Fitch Credit Card Performance Index
Month Outstand Delinq. Chrg-Off Yield MPR
Sprd
Nov 97 $161.6b 3.38% 6.64% 19.68% 15.43% 4.05%
Oct 97 $160.0b 3.36% 6.65% 18.82% 14.33% 3.80%
Sep 97 $154.4b 3.33% 6.59% 18.73% 13.98% 3.89%
Nov 96 $134.4b 3.25% 5.43% 18.10% 14.31% 4.74%
Nov 95 $ 95.9b 2.50% 4.10% 17.81% 14.17% 5.21%
Nov 94 $ 65.9b 2.00% 3.57% 18.34% 15.04% 6.23%
Nov 93 $ 51.1b 2.66% 4.44% 19.11% 14.45% 5.84%
Delinq.-60 day+ delinquency; MPR-monthly payment rate; Sprd-3 month
excess spread;

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Vehicle Tag Coming

Texas Instruments said this morning its ‘TIRIS’ vehicle tag system for wireless transactions at gasoline stations is on track and will be operational in early December. Mobil became the first company to use TI’s radio frequency identification system in the retail environment as Mobil established its ‘SpeedPass’ program. Mobil has been using a key ring tag but recently announced the vehicle tag will be available in selected markets.

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TSYS Signs BB&T

Total System Services, Inc., today announced the signing of a multi-year contract to provide credit, debit and commercial card processing for Winston Salem, N.C.- based BB&T Corporation. The bank will convert its one million accounts to TSYS’ state-of-the-art Year 2000 compliant TS2(R) Cardholder System.

TSYS President Philip W. Tomlinson said, “We appreciate the confidence BB&T has placed in us to meet its business needs and are certain that they will enjoy the benefits of our leading-edge systems and solutions. We look forward to helping them prosper in this highly competitive environment.”

TS2 is the complete rewrite of TSYS’ Cardholder System. The card processing system offers exceptional levels of service and performance beyond any application in today’s card processing domain.

“TSYS offers high quality innovative card processing services,” said Scott Qualls, senior vice president and manager of BB&T’s Revolving Credit Department, “Their addition to BB&T’s team will allow us to continue providing world-standard client service for all our bankcard and debit card clients.”

BB&T also announced its intention to move its state of issuance for bankcard and merchant businesses to Georgia. BB&T is in the process of applying with the appropriate state and federal authorities. BB&T currently operates these businesses out of North Carolina.

BB&T Corporation (NYSE: BBK), a multi-bank holding company with $27.2 billion in assets, operates 485 banking offices in 256 cities in North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia. BB&T is a full-service commercial and retail bank that also offers additional financial services, such as insurance, investments, leasing and trust. More information on BB&T is available at the bank’s website, .

Headquartered in Columbus, Ga., TSYS is one of the world’s largest credit, debit, commercial and private-label card processing companies, serving card issuing institutions located throughout the United States, Puerto Rico, Canada and Mexico, representing more than 91 million cardholder accounts. TSYS provides a comprehensive on-line system of data processing services marketed as THE TOTAL SYSTEM(R). In 1996, TSYS formed a joint venture with Visa(R) U.S.A. to create Vital Processing Services L.L.C. (), a leading full-service merchant processing company. TSYS’ 1996 revenues totaled $311.6 million; the company is an 80.7 percent owned subsidiary of Synovus Financial Corp. (NYSE: SNV)(), a $9.0 billion asset, multi- financial services company that also includes 34 banking affiliates in four Southeastern states, a full-service brokerage firm, a comprehensive trust services provider and a mortgage services company. TSYS’ Internet address is .

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