My prediction: Holiday shopping stories will add 0% to our understanding of the economy

After a couple of decades of reading countless stories related to holiday sales, I can say one thing for certain: Retailers never, ever, predict they’re going to have a great holiday sales season. I’m not sure why — underpromising, I suppose — but every year I read the same teeth-gnashing stories: Holiday sales are not expected to grow significantly from the previous year.

And then, if they do see a spike in sales early on, retailers and retail analysts talk it down. Are they afraid that if we think sales are strong, we’ll not be stirred to do our patriotic duty — that we won’t drop what we’re doing to head out and buy more stuff — for the good of the country?

For example, the New York Times is reporting “that sales rose by 8.3 percent on Friday compared with last year’s day after Thanksgiving.”

That’s good, right? Apparently not. Because, according to the reporter, shoppers did not “splurge” this year. They spent only $348 each during the holiday weekend, which is down from $360 each last year.

Never mind the two statistics are not actually connected in any way except that the reporter did a mash-up of two different surveys from two different sources to come up with a creative interpretation. In the first survey, sales were up 8.3% on one day. In the second survey, per-shopper purchases were down over an entire weekend. By combining the two unrelated surveys, the reporter suggests that more people are shopping, but spending less — and then leaps to the conclusion that can only be characterized as something so obvious as to be amusing: People are looking for bargains. (Unlike, I guess, they did in the past.)

I’ve decided holiday shopping stories are about as helpful as articles appearing in the sports section during the two weeks before the Super Bowl. Lots of analyses that fill airtime and column inches, but that mean nothing.

So as a public service — so you can skip all the stories about retail over the next month — here’s all the news you’ll need:

1. People are going to spend more money this holiday season than they did last year.

2. They’re going to increase their spending by roughly whatever the growth of the economy was last year.

3. They’re going to spend more money online than they did last year. (That has nothing to do with the price of gasoline. It has to do with the fact that more people like me (those who hate to go shopping) are discovering the joy of shop-clicking.)

4. Retailers are going to slash prices earlier and more deeply than last year. (Except you’ll have no way to prove it unless you kept meticulous records of what each retailer did last year.)

5. There will be some item — a toy or gadget — that sells out and is going to is being auctioned for a ridiculous amount on eBay. (Sub-prediction: It won’t be the Kindle despite Amazon selling out its first batch.)

6. Flatscreen TVs and HD DVDs are going to do really well. (At my house.)

7. The hipster-tech gift of the season will be the One Laptop Per Child’s XO, which has extended its Give One, Get One program through December 31. (Despite the WSJ doing a number on it Saturday.)

8. Apple will sell lots of Macs and iPods and iPhones. (And on January 15, when Steve Jobs announces new stuff, people will regret they didn’t wait.)

9. The increase over the previous year in news coverage of holiday-retail sales will grow faster than the GDP.

10. Baby Jesus will grow between 2-3% more disgusted with how the annual commemoration of his birth has become tied to retail sales figures.