Los Angeles retailers should expect a fairly happy holiday shopping season this year, with sales just about matching 1999's robust period.

According to a survey by accounting firm Deloitte & Touche, L.A. consumers are expecting to spend an average of $836 on holiday shopping, about equal with last year's spending spree.

L.A.'s shopping habits match those of consumers across the country, who said they plan to spend an average of $836 on gifts, down slightly from $849 last year.

"I am cautiously optimistic about this season," said Richard Giss, a retail expert at Deloitte & Touche in Los Angeles. "Consumer confidence is at historically high levels, but it is eroding. We have turmoil in the stock markets and we have some earnings reports released from corporate America that cause you to be a little cautious. People's willingness to spend is in large measure a reflection of their feeling of well being. On the West Coast we're seeing a little less confidence than the rest of the country, maybe because we have a little higher concentration of high-tech companies. You can't spend your stock options at Nordstrom."

Retailers have been jittery that ballooning gasoline prices and a fluctuating stock market might cut deeply into holiday sales, which for many outlets account for 40 percent of annual revenues. But the 15th annual Consumer and Retailer Mood Survey, released by Deloitte & Touche in conjunction with the National Retail Federation, may have at least partially allayed such fears.

"I think we're expecting a very strong, hot season," said Rina Neiman, a spokeswoman for Macy's West. "We've had a real strong season so far, and everyone is expecting the holiday season to be strong too."

Federated Department Stores Inc., the parent of Macy's, reported that sales for the first 39 weeks of 2000 totaled $12.3 billion, a 4.7 percent jump over 1999.

The Deloitte & Touche survey of 1,272 people nationwide, including 225 L.A. consumers, showed that, regionally and nationally, people feel secure in their jobs, which helps spending.

Kurt Barnard, president of Barnard's Retail Trend Report in New Jersey, agreed that consumers will be spending a good amount of money this holiday season, but they may be a tad more frugal than last year.

"They will buy good things, but they will not buy frivolously, on impulse and on a whim," Barnard said. "And they will go to those stores that carry the most affordable prices."

With that in mind, 28 percent of L.A. consumers surveyed said they will spend their money at discount stores, 19 percent will go to traditional departments stores, 12 percent will hit the superstores and 12 percent will look to warehouse clubs for their gifts.

For some, cyberspace will be their preferred venue to pick up gifts and send them without leaving their home or office.

In Los Angeles, 57 percent of those surveyed said they use the Internet, and of those, 66 percent said they plan to do some of their holiday shopping online.

Nationwide, 54 percent of those surveyed said they use the Internet and 55 percent expected to do some holiday shopping online.

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