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Black Friday Canada taking a bite out of U.S. sales?

Jennifer Kwan

Everyone wants in on Black Friday with U.S. and Canadian retailers fighting for the consumer dollars needed to jolt tepid economic growth.

Many U.S. retailers launched the shopping frenzy early on American Thanksgiving, a day before Black Friday, an event that companies hope will lift profits into the black for the year, and signals the start of the holiday shopping season.

In Canada, stores were slated to offer discounts and open earlier on Friday to keep customers from looking for deals south of the border given a lofty Canadian dollar and more generous duty-free rules put in place in the summer.

All this even as consumers on both sides of the border remain worried about the possibility of big tax increases and spending cuts in 2013, known widely as the "fiscal cliff," and its potential economic impact.

So how dependant is the economy on the shopping frenzy?

Market watchers will comb through the data to use the shopping experiences over the weekend to gauge whether consumers are spending, a key ingredient in driving economies. Consumer spending accounts for some 70 percent of economic growth in the U.S. and roughly 50 percent in Canada, economists say.

"If people open their wallets and spend and get that liquidity back into the economy it is a large boost to the economy," said Willy Kruh, global chair of consumer markets at KPMG.

Recent data showed U.S. retail sales dipped slightly in October for the first time in three months. This week, a report showed Canadian retail sales in September were essentially flat, nudging up less than market watchers expected.

"It poses a couple of interesting questions. Does it sway the seasonal adjustment factor at all? All in all, we're seeing, particularly on the Internet side, a lot of new marketing based on the U.S. concept. I think that could potentially drive some uptick," said Camilla Sutton, chief currency strategist at Scotiabank.

The results matter in both countries. The National Retail Federation, an industry trade group, forecast a 4.1 percent increase in retail sales during the holiday period this year. In Canada, a recent report from Deloitte forecast 1 to 2 percent retail sales growth this holiday season.

But it's too early to determine what kind of impact Black Friday will have on retails sales figures, says Robert Kavcic, an economist at BMO Capital Markets. As well, even if retail sales volumes get a boost, prices could take a hit.

"To the extent that the Canadian retailers are forced to cut those prices to match U.S. Black Friday sales that's going to put even more downward on Canadian inflation," he says.

Data released on Friday showed inflation held steady at 1.2 percent in October.