Hark, The Gift Wrap Index Sings Of Merrier Retailers

It's hardly in the bag yet--or rather, in the stocking--but suddenly, the signs are pointing to a merrier Christmas than many economic Cassandras had anticipated. Not only did consumer confidence surge in early November but retail sales also jumped a healthy 0.9% in October.

What's more, retailers are apparently in a positive mood. Peter P. Appert, an analyst at C.J. Lawrence Inc., reports that shipments from major gift-wrap manufacturers to retailers in the past few months are outpacing last year's meager gain. In past Christmas seasons, such shipments were highly correlated with nondurable retail sales.

"Our gift-wrap indicator," says Appert, "currently points to a merry--though not booming--Christmas, suggesting that fourth-quarter sales of apparel and other nondurables will be up 4.2% over last year." That's higher than inflation and considerably better than last Christmas' paltry 1.1% rise.