BANGOR – Most Mainers expect to be spending as much on holiday gifts this year as they did last year, when retailers experienced growth of about 6 percent. The majority of Mainers also expect consumer prices to go up within the next six months, according to a survey released Tuesday by a New England investment firm.
About 60 percent of those surveyed said they planned to spend the same amount, or more, this year, and about 86 percent said they would be shopping at stores instead of through catalogs or on the Internet, according to The Stratevest Group, a subsidiary of Portland-based Banknorth Co.
The Stratevest Group, located in Burlington, Vt., hired the Vermont polling company Kelliher Samets Volk to conduct the survey. Four-hundred Mainers were telephoned last week, and the results have a margin of error of plus-minus 5 percent.
“Retailers should have a good year like last year,” said J. Alan Day, vice president and economist for Stratevest. “Hopefully they’ll have a little better one.”
The survey mirrors estimates of sales on Thanksgiving weekend by national retailers such as Wal-Mart, Sears and The Gap that show receipts up anywhere from one percent to six percent over the same period last year.
Although the economy is slowing, two factors should contribute to consistency in sales this year compared to last year, said Tim Volk, a pollster with Kelliher Samets Volk. The factors are five weekends and an additional week of pay between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
“So they’re getting more,” Volk said.
Of those responding to the poll, 25 percent said they would spend more than $750 on gifts, while just as many said they would spend less than $250. Most of those polled – 47 percent – said they would be doling out between $251 and $750.
As expected, Day said, people with incomes less than $35,000 will be spending below $500 while those who earn more than $35,001 will spend above that amount. Sixty-six of the 400 Mainers surveyed, however, would not disclose their level of income.
“I wouldn’t tell them either,” Day said.
The survey results gave Day information he said he wasn’t expecting – that 53 percent of all Mainers expect prices to be going up in the next six months while 38 percent said they believe prices will remain the same.
“I was rather alarmed when I saw that,” Day said. “If they say prices are going to go up, they’re probably going to go up and that will cut into our economic growth in the future.”
Mainers are concerned about high energy prices – from heating fuels to gasoline to electricity – and increases in automobile and health insurance rates and food prices, Day said.
“So you put all these things together and you can say prices are going up,” he said.
The Federal Reserve Bank pays attention to consumer price expectations, but other groups do not give consumers credit for anticipating what the economy could be doing, Day said.
“Too many folks underestimate the average household consumer,” he said. “I think consumers understand prices pretty well. American households are value shoppers.”
Although prices in various sectors may increase, Day said increased competition among retailers in smaller cities such as Bangor is easing budgetary strains and is keeping holiday shopping estimates at levels consistent with last year.
“Everything’s on sale,” Day said. “It’s balancing things out. Competition keeps things in control.”
The Stratevest Group is an investment and management firm with offices in Bangor, Lewiston and Portland. It conducts surveys several times a year to assess what consumers are doing, and to use those numbers as a tool when advising businesses, Day said.