The sagging economy may have Americans worried, but many aren't letting that stop them from getting a Christmas tree any longer.
Analysts say that Christmas-tree spending for 2011 is likely to be the highest since the start of the recession, with Americans expected to spend a combined $3.4 billion on real and artificial trees, according to the research company IBISWorld. That breaks down to $800 million on 25 million real pines and $2.6 billion on 10 million artificial trees, according to Bloomberg.
If these projections are accurate, 2011 will see the most money spent on Christmas trees since 2007, when Americans bought $3.51 billion worth of trees. The following year, when the holiday season arrived in the midst of a worldwide economic crisis, Christmas-tree spending fell to just $3.14 billion.
The forecast of muscular Christmas tree sales is one of a handful of indicators suggesting that holiday shoppers might not be slowed by the economic pain that has characterized the rest of the year.
High unemployment and frustration with leadership in Washington have brought thousands spilling onto the streets as part of the Occupy protests this autumn -- with many of them declaring their intentions not to conspicuously consume. But the post-Thanksgiving retail rush saw record-breaking spending over Black Friday weekend and then again on Cyber Monday, according to reports.
In addition to Christmas trees, IBISWorld has also collected data on a number of other holiday shopping categories, and predicts a rise across the board, with consumer spending on gifts, gift cards, food, decorations and Christmas cards all expected to hit a three- or four-year high.
Yet other signs imply that the sorry state of the economy -- with a high jobless rate, a lifeless housing market and bills meant to spur hiring caught in legislative limbo -- is already putting a drag on the holiday season, as many people express worry about not being able to afford gifts, others say they don't plan to shop at all and even mall Santas try to gently manage children's expectations when it comes to Christmas presents.
Even the high Black Friday numbers might not mean much in the larger picture. Over a third of people in a recent poll said they have already done all the holiday shopping they're planning to do, suggesting that Black Friday's single-weekend spikes may not translate into sustained spending momentum.
And as Barry Ritholtz recently pointed out in The Washington Post, evidence suggests that people often do a bad job of predicting how much they'll spend during holiday shopping -- leading to retail forecasts that are sometimes inflated by double-digit percentage points.