Retail report grim for '08, '09

NEW YORK — The nation's retailers had a rough 2008, but this year will likely be even scarier, according to a sales forecast released Tuesday from the world's largest retail trade organization.

Retailers are expected to record a 0.5 percent drop in revenue in 2009, the first annual decline in three decades and perhaps much longer, according to a National Retail Federation forecast released Tuesday.

That's well below the modest 1.4 percent gain they recorded for 2008.

Massive layoffs, slumping home prices and tight credit are keeping shoppers tightfisted.

The NRF estimated that retail sales for the first half of 2009 will fall 2.5 percent. Then, they'll show a 1.1 percent decline in the third quarter and rebound to a 3.6 percent increase in the fourth quarter, aided by an anticipated government economic stimulus.

Another factor that should help sales figures for late 2009 is that sales were so dismal during the fourth quarter of 2008 declining 1.7 percent, said Rosalind Wells, NRF's chief economist.

For November and December combined, sales fell 2.8 percent, below the association's forecast of a 2.2 percent gain.

"Most of the consumer behavior we saw in 2008 will continue well into this year," said Wells

She said she's never seen an annual decline in the 30-plus years she has tracked retail sales. She started with NRF in 1995 but had previously worked as J.C. Penney's chief economist from 1978 to 1988.

NRF's retail sales figures exclude business from automobile sales, gas stations and restaurants.