By  on November 20, 2007

PARIS — With transport strikes grinding traffic to a halt in France, credit worries among shoppers in the U.K. and general malaise across the Continent, there are plenty of reasons to worry that the Grinch may steal the Christmas shopping season in Europe.

The bright spot: luxury. Retailers said high-end ready-to-wear and accessories are driving business, and that the important rundown to the end of the year — so far — is shaping up favorably.

"We have very high expectations for luxury ranges and glamorous contemporary [fashion] from now until Christmas," said Cedric Charbit, general merchandise manager of women's wear at Paris' Printemps department store. "Gift purchases have started already."

Paul Delaoutre, general manager of Galeries Lafayette, also predicted robust business.

"Before Christmas last year, spending was a worry," he said. "Nonetheless, we had a great end of the year. The more worries there are about spending, the more people gravitate to discount and impulse buying. [For the latter] we are well positioned."

Even as French retailers expressed optimism, some said a sword of Damocles — in the form of prolonged transportation strikes — hangs over them.

"Without the impact of the strikes, the trends are very good this year," said Philippe de Beauvoir, president of Paris' Bon Marché specialty store. "We are quite optimistic for December, but we may have to revise our projections if the strikes become drawn out."

Strikes in France aren't the only potential blot on business. Another possible cloud is consumers' anxiety over purchasing power.

"Europeans in general are expecting a weakening of the economy in 2008," according to consulting firm Deloitte in a study released this month. "[That] does not bode well for year-end holiday spending."

Deloitte said the French anticipate their spending to increase a modest 1.4 percent, less than the rate of inflation. Average growth in holiday spending in Europe is expected to be around 3 percent.

Other countries are more buoyant. Spending in the U.K. and Ireland is expected to accelerate 7 percent despite tremors in the economy. And Spanish spending should gain 5.1 percent. Gift spending in Scandinavian countries is expected to increase 5.5 percent.

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