Money Minute: HP Fails to Disappoint; Is It In the Bag for E-Tailers?

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Will you be in line or online for the holidays?

While the usual long lines can be expected at stores Thursday night and Friday morning, Internet retailers may be the big winners this year. Forrester Research forecasts online sales in the last two months of the year will rise 15 percent from last year. The report says 167 million of us will click to buy, spending an average of $472. A lot of that spending will come at the expense of brick-and-mortar stores.

Hewlett Packard Meg Whitman
Paul Sakuma/APHewlett-Packard CEO Meg Whitman
Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) says its turnaround is on track. HP's quarterly sales declined for the ninth straight quarter, but the results weren't as bad as analysts had expected. The company's business has been under pressure on nearly all fronts, as HP struggles to meet the changing demands of consumers. Despite the problems, HP shares have been on a tear. They've nearly doubled over the past year, and are set to rally again today.

Apple's (AAPL) stock starts the day near its highest level in a year. It's up 34 percent since bottoming out in June, but still down for the year.

Here on Wall Street, the Dow Jones industrial average (^DJI) and the Standard & Poor's 500 index (^GPSC) edged just slightly higher Tuesday, while the Nasdaq composite index (^IXIC) rallied 23 points to close above the 4,000 level for the first since September 2000. The big difference is that the tech-heavy Nasdaq was on the way down back then, while it's been in rally mode this year. The Nasdaq is up more than 33 percent so far this year, easily outpacing the Dow and the S&P 500.

Lastly, Time Warner Cable (TWC) hasn't exactly said it's up for sale, but that hasn't kept many of its competitors from considering a bid. The Wall Street Journal reports (subscription required) the latest is Cox Communications, the third largest cable company behind Comcast (CMCSA) and Time Warner. Charter Communications, number four on the list, started the buyout talk by saying it was preparing a bid. Comcast is also said to be interested.

-Produced by Drew Trachtenberg.

5 Good Reasons to Avoid the Mall on Black Friday
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Money Minute: HP Fails to Disappoint; Is It In the Bag for E-Tailers?
We're not saying you should give up shopping on Black Friday altogether. Just do it online instead.

At one point it may have been true that Black Friday was for in-store deals, while Cyber Monday was for the e-commerce set. But these days, retailers are taking pains to offer a seamless experience between their online and bricks-and-mortar channels, and that means many of the marquee Black Friday deals can be had from the comfort of your couch. "[Retailers] continue to get better at syncing the online and offline experience," says Brad Wilson of BradsDeals. "95 percent-plus of deals are going to be available both online and offline."

Plus, shopping online can offer the ability to do comparison shopping, something that's harder to do when you've committed to standing in line at a given store. "If you go to a certain store, you're limited to the prices there, unless they do price matching," says Lindsay Sakraida of DealNews. "Online, you can quickly check other stores."
OK, so most of the deals are online. But not all of them! The marquee "doorbusters" that headline retailers' circulars are available only in stores, and they tend to be doozies -- TVs priced well below market value, for instance, are a common lure. If you want one of those, you'll have to hit the stores.

But they're called doorbusters for a reason: Usually you need to be one of the first people in the door to get them. Expect to find them in very limited quantities: Some circulars only promise 10 or 15 units actually available in each store.

That means you'll need to be among the dedicated shoppers camped out hours before opening. And with many major retailers opening in the evening on Thursday, you may have to duck out on your Thanksgiving meal early if you want to save an extra $100 on a TV.
Another thing about that TV: It's not going to be a marquee brand.

"Typically, the TVs on Black Friday are not going to be high end, but third-tier manufacturers like Westinghouse," says Sakraida. If you want to get, say, a Samsung, you'll find the best price early next year when the new models come out and the old ones are discounted. And the same holds true of other consumer electronics: Often you'll see a circular headlined by a $200 laptop, but you can be sure that it's not a top-notch model.

These deals are loss-leaders intended to get you in the door, and as a general rule they're not going to offer such a deal on a premium brands. So unless you're truly in need for a new TV or laptop and can't afford a better-quality choice, it's probably not worth the effort.
The way some people shop on Black Friday, you'd think it's the only day of the year to get a discount. But the truth is that Black Friday is now nearly a week-long event.

"Black Friday isn't just Friday," says Wilson. "It's a six-day thing, from Wednesday to Monday."

Going later in the weekend will likely net you many of the same discounts, but with a fraction of the  crowds. And online deals will abound all weekend and beyond. On Cyber Monday, you'll find a lot of apparel deals, and most online retailers will keep the deals going throughout what's now known as "Cyber Week."

Beyond the Black Friday/Cyber Monday weekend, the outlook gets a bit more hazy. Wilson points to historic data showing prices rising on subsequent weekends, so there is an argument to be made that you should find some way to get your shopping done on or around Black Friday. On the other hand, if the sales figures for Black Friday are disappointing, you can expect the retailers to keep the big discounts going well into December. And for certain product classes, like toys, the data shows that you're actually better off waiting until mid-December.

Finally, keep in mind that you can kick off your holiday shopping before Thanksgiving, too. That's something to keep in mind if you have your eye on one of this season's best-selling toys.

"If you're looking for something very specific and you find it in mid-November, it may be worth buying it at that price, because there's no guarantee that it will be avail on Black Friday," says Sakraida.
Opening for Black Friday on Thanksgiving evening is quickly becoming the new standard in the retail industry. That's in part because it makes sense for consumers: Instead of starting their shopping at midnight or 4 a.m., they're able to get in the door at the more reasonable hour of 8 p.m. and be back home before bedtime.

But it's a tough schedule for retail workers, many of whom will have to cut their Thanksgivings short so they can go in that afternoon to set up for the big night. And while retailers do endeavor to get volunteers for the big day, it's generally understood that some employees won't have a choice in the matter. Last year, this led to petitions and boycott calls, but they fell on deaf ears: Whatever bad publicity retailers get from making people work on a national holiday is outweighed by the huge sales they do that evening.

Ultimately, then, the only thing that's going to stand in the way of this Thanksgiving Creep is if shoppers stop showing up that night. We harbor no illusions that enough people could be convinced to skip their post-Thanksgiving dinner shopping to get the retail industry to do an about-face on this issue. But the more people come to shop that evening, the more entrenched it becomes -- and the more likely it is that stores will open even earlier next year. If you can resist the allure of Thursday-night doorbusters, you'll be doing your small part to keep holiday shopping from completely swallowing up Thanksgiving.
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