U.S. retail executives were rather hopeful for a strong start to the Holiday shopping season, based on the latest findings of the NRF Executive Opinion Survey, a monthly index by the National Retail Federation. The tempered outlook in the October survey stayed flat for the month on November, but key short- and long-term components signaled a more enthusiastic view by retailers.

The Retail Sector Performance Index (RSPI) for November was flat to the October’s 54.6 reading, bolstered by a 270 basis point gain in the Demand Outlook, which is a six-month look-ahead index for retailers, and a sharp increase in Average Transactions per Customer, which offset declining confidence in the Operations Index. The Index, or RSPI, measures retail executives’ evaluations of a number of core retail performance metrics and is based on a scale of 0.0% to 100.0, with 50.0 equaling normal.

The Current Demand Index also showed continued confidence in November, with the reading inching up 50 basis points basis points to 55.0 as a 550 basis point improvement in the Average Transaction reading offset lower sales and flat traffic.

The Operations Index declined 310 basis points, due to a sharp decline in the Employment reading and, to a lesser extent, the Inventories reading.

The NRF said that retailers clearly planned on early discounts to entice early holiday shoppers as pricing power diminished from October.  The November pricing index fell 10.9 points to 30.0, slightly higher than the 28.1 reading from November 2003.

NRF continues to project a 4.5% increase in holiday sales this year over last year, bringing estimated revenues of $219.9 billion this holiday season.