What retail sales really say about the economy

Speculation on just how bad holiday sales will be for retailers is rampant. Predictions, recent sales figures, the number of imports coming through our nation's ports -- the oddsmakers are tallying up the data but still can't reach a conclusion.

Holiday sales predictions are making about as much sense as Congress these days. But with September retail sales figures announced Thursday and Black Friday approaching, the punditry is in high gear.

The recently released financials don't do anything to clear the matter up. Some retailers posted small gains, some losses, but the overall takeaway is positive since even the stores that had sales decline in September, like Target beat Wall Street's expectations. They lost less money than anyone thought. (Nowhere near as harsh as last year's declines
but the drop in sales for September 2009 is on top of the double digit declines experienced in September 2008.)