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TVs, cameras top holiday plans

The Consumer Electronics Association predicts solid growth in gadget sales this year.

SAN FRANCISCO--Americans want peace on Earth this Christmas, but they'll probably settle for a plasma-screen TV.

That's according to the Consumer Electronics Association, whose annual forecast for the holiday shopping season--released on the first day of the group's Industry Forum conference--predicts solid growth in sales of high-definition TV sets, MP3 players and other high-tech gadgets.

Overall, the trade group expects a 5 percent increase in wholesale revenue from electronics devices for the 2004 holiday season. That's a drop from the surprise 14 percent growth seen last year, said Sean Wargo, director of industry analysis for CEA, but still good for an uncertain economy and a strong sign of a turnaround from the declines of 2001 and 2002.

The CEA report, based on interviews conducted in early October with 1,000 U.S. households, also found folks yearning for things money can't buy. "Peace and happiness" was the No. 1 most-wanted gift among adults, followed by clothes and more time with their family. Kids, bless their greedy little hearts, showed more consistency by demanding toys and video games.

For grown-ups looking for something with an electric cord, were the most sought-after item for this year and the biggest revenue generator from last year, though Wargo said it's unclear how many of those 36-inch marvels really qualified as gifts. "People are really buying these for themselves," he said, coining the term "self-gifting" for the phenomenon of luxury purchases that happen to coincide with the end of the year.

For smaller-ticket items, digital cameras are still big news, ranking as the No. 2 most-requested item among adults. Revenue for digital cameras is expected to increase 24 percent this year. Laptop PCs are expected to be another strong seller, with revenue expected to be up 13 percent.

Digital music players are seen as the strongest growth category this holiday, with revenue expected to increase 147 percent--that despite the fact that a lot of people who want an MP3 player are likely to get the wrong thing. The survey found that portable CD players ranked in the top 5 gifts U.S. consumers expect to buy for someone, but they're at the bottom of the wish list for gifts people want to receive. "Way, way before people are asking for a portable CD player, they're asking for an MP3 player," Wargo said.

Overall, the CEA expects revenue from televisions, audio devices, cell phones and the like--"anything with chips in it, pretty much"--to hit $108.8 billion this year, after just crossing the $100 billion mark last year, Wargo said.

The survey also spotted a few anomalies. While consumers remain concerned about the economy, they don't seem to be too worked up over the presidential election. Those surveyed cited identical holiday buying expectations, whether President Bush or Sen. John Kerry is elected, with 10 percent planning to spend more this year and 17 percent planning to spend less.