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Stores may see disappointing Black Friday

NEW YORK - After pushing steep discounts throughout November that are usually reserved for the day after Thanksgiving, retailers from Kohl's to Toys 'R' Us are offering even bigger cuts and promotions for Black Friday in a frantic bid to pull in shoppers.

But the bargain hunters showing up for the early morning specials on toys and TVs are not expected to buy with the same gusto as a year ago, as they fret about tightening credit, massive layoffs and shrinking retirement funds.

Not to mention that consumers are already jaded by all those '60 percent off' signs plastered on storefronts. Analysts say shoppers may stick to smaller gifts like cosmetics rather than $1,000 flat-panel TVs in a holiday season expected to be the weakest in decades.

Another concern? There aren't any must-have items so far, even in toys - though some items have been popular, such as Spin Master Ltd.'s Bakugan.

'I will be careful,' said Joanna Rizzo, 20, an executive secretary from Medford, N.Y. who plans to stick to her budget of $200 for the day after Thanksgiving. Rizzo has just finished paying off her credit cards, and will use cash to pay for her presents. Overall, she plans to spend about $600, less than the $1,000 she spent on presents last year.

In recent years, merchants including Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Toys 'R' Us Inc., have been pushing earlier the sales and expanded hours that were typically reserved for Black Friday - named because it historically was when stores turned a profit - to jump-start the season.

But in this year's deteriorating economy, stores from luxury retailers to consumer electronics chains, pressed the panic button - slashing prices up to 60 percent on even new merchandise. After reporting the worst October sales in at least 39 years, stores are seeing more weak sales in November, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers-Goldman Sachs Index, which measures sales at stores opened at least a year.

The day after Thanksgiving - which was the biggest sales generator of the season last year - isn't a predictor of the holiday season, but serves as a barometer of people's willingness to spend, said Burt P. Flickinger III, managing director of Strategic Resource Group.

'It sets the tone,' said Flickinger, who predicts total sales will be 3 percent lower on Black Friday this year compared to last year. And more than ever, analysts will dissect the weekend's receipts to see how tightening credit and job worries are affecting spending.