Two discount giants tell different stories today, underscoring the wishy-washiness of this year's holiday shopping outlook.
Penney's sales and demand are ringing up ahead of its expectations so far this month -- even more evidence that the company's turnaround plans are solidly progressing. It expects a low single-digit comps gain for December and anticipates more customers will realize "it's all inside" for the last-minute shopping crunch this weekend.
Wal-Mart's week didn't go as planned, however, with sales trending at the low end of expectations. It attributes the relative weakness to customer procrastination and looks forward to a flood of shoppers as Christmas approaches. The retailer isn't budging on its outlook, and still predicts comp sales will increase 3% to 5% for December.
What will the end story be? Will Penney's results stay strong? Will Wal-Mart's aisles fill with people come next week? The University of Michigan's consumer sentiment index painted a rosy scene of shoppers apparently feeling more festive this month than last. Whether those cheery thoughts will translate into actual buying remains to be seen.