That time of the year

  • Business
  • Saturday, 08 Dec 2012

Looking forward to winding down, celebrating and spending time with family.

DID you notice the Christmas decorations at Pavilion KL? They were up since the last 2 weeks of November. It looks good from the street and when you are inside the building.

There are many happy shoppers and tourists taking photos. Given the space inside and outside the building, I see the potential for the festive decorations to become an iconic tradition similar to that of the Myers window in Melbourne or the Selfridges window in London!

(Myers is department store in Melbourne. Each year, its windows along Burke Street Mall are decorated with a Christmas theme. It is so popular, people line up patiently in a long queue for their turn to look at the windows! It is a tradition which is now in its 57th year.)

I remember when I was working in Melbourne, November and December were difficult months to work because Spring is in the air. The weather forecasts usually include comments about the warm temperature and activities at the beaches.

When you step out for lunch from the offices in Melbourne CBD (where I worked), you see buskers, street performers and a crowd of shoppers. There is music in the air. It makes you feel like not going back to work.

Recently, in the meetings I attended here in KL, it appears like half the people in the room are coughing. When you are at the shopping centres, you can't help but notice people coughing openly the cashier, the waiter and the customers! I wonder if sick leave has increased during this period; not because of the holiday season but because of over consumption of durians which are in season.

Some businesses are winding' down at this time of the year. New businesses and deals are expected to be slow. A bank employee lamented about how he will struggle to meet his targets this month.

However for some businesses, especially retail, airlines, F&B and hotels, they are experiencing their busiest period and counting on the holiday season to make the numbers. A senior hotel staff recalls that he has not spent New Year's eve with his family for the last 8-10 years as the hotel will have special events on that day such as dinner parties and countdowns.

At this time of the year, there are some key statistics that are monitored closely. One of them is retail sales. Retail sales (especially in US and Australia) is a strong indicator of consumer sentiments and economic activity'. The measures are tracked closely as early as September. Not meeting sales expectations in key occasions such as thanksgiving holiday in US or if numbers in October and November were down or stagnant, they are usually red alerts'.

At the end of last week, the Australian dollar fell because the country's retail sales stagnated in October. This led to speculation of a cut in the benchmark interest rate.

Apart from retail data, it was also reported that company profitsfell, commodity prices were weakening and building approvals were down as well. This week, on Tuesday (4 Dec 2012), the Reserve Bank of Australia announced a 25 basis points cut in the official interest rate to 3%.

Last Friday (30 Nov), Eurostat released figures that the unemployment rate for the 17 EU countries was at 11.7% in October, the highest level since euro was introduced in 1999. The unemployment rate for Greece and Spain were at over 25% and youth unemployment heading toward' 60%. Many are facing difficult times this holiday season.

A local headhunter revealed that for her company, the rest of the year will be quiet and expects it to be so until March next year. The significance of March date is the uncertainty with the elections date - wait and see.

The best position to be is to have the luxury to be able to wind down take time off work and spend time with the family after a busy year. This is possible when the targets for the year are on track and there is stock'/contracts in place next year. For instance, contracts won to be executed next year or orders in hand; knowing that you will not be going into the new year empty' handed.

Some believe in playing it right in December for a good reason. A senior level executive advised her colleagues that her formula for a good bonus worked each time. Towards the year end, especially in December, it is the month to toe the line', not offend the boss' or make silly mistakes. It is the time of the year when bonuses are determined. One might have done well and showed good performance throughout the year but it is critical that in this particular month, things need to be right because the boss can only remember recent events!

Depending on your situation and mood at this time of the year, whether it is business as usual or if you are starting to wind down and looking forward to the well-deserved time with your family after a hectic year, I wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Joan Hoi is looking forward to a holiday with her family. (Ed: Take on Change will return on Jan 19, 2013)

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