Why holiday sales could ride on lower gas prices

discounts certainly are a major draw, but holiday sales may also get a
boost this year from the lower price of gasoline.

AAA says the
average price of gasoline has tumbled 49 cents from its peak this year
to $3.29 a gallon, putting it on track for the lowest average since

And history shows that when gas prices drop, consumers
become more likely to splurge on dinners out. Impulse buys at the mall
seem like less of a stretch.

Many retail analysts have forecast a
ho-hum sales gain of around 2 percent this year. Others predict a more
optimistic increase of up to 3.9 percent. But some analysts say steadily
cheaper gas could send holiday sales soaring above 5.4 percent.

Cheaper gas might also help shore up consumers' fragile confidence in an economic recovery that's lumbered along for 4½ years.

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