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Retailers banging the holiday drum early — will consumers respond?

The holiday shopping stakes are high, going into the traditional post-Thanksgiving “Black Friday” kickoff, and local retailers are poised to be big players.

The holiday shopping stakes are high, going into the traditional post-Thanksgiving “Black Friday” kickoff , and local retailers are poised to be big players.

With consumer spending historically accounting for 60 percent or more of the U.S. economy, has consumer confidence healed enough to keep the economy in anemic but positive growth?

Several recent tidbits hint at what retailers, consumers – and investors – might be thinking as the drumbeat picks up over the remainder of the year.

Like Russian nesting dolls, BestBuy’s (NYSE:BBY) announcement of a promotion wrapped inside an event revealing an upcoming sale was an attention grabber – which was the whole point.

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The consumer electronics retail giant launched its holiday shopping season Thursday. In a press release it labeled “an unprecedented move,” Best Buy said it would give its Facebook and Twitter followers an advanced preview of “Black Friday Doorbuster deals” that will become available for sale beginning on its website Thanksgiving Day and in-store on midnight Friday following Thanksgiving.

“We are thrilled to offer our customers and over 5 million Facebook fans a sneak peek into this year’s hottest Black Friday deals today with additional items revealed soon,” Chief Marketing Officer Barry Judge said in a prepared release. “We will continue to provide an advantage to our Facebook fans with early access to more offers and experiences than ever before.” 

The Friday before Halloween, Target (NYSE:TGT) announced that it would open its stores “earlier than ever” — midnight on Black Friday.

“The holidays bring hectic schedules and tight budgets, so extending store hours and offering lots of additional ways to save makes Target a great choice for affordable, one-stop holiday shopping,” Target Executive Vice President Tina Schiel said in its release.

Black Friday Ads, a website that tracks retailers’ post-Thanksgiving promotions, alerted readers Thursday of promos both retailers published on their websites.

While Minneapolis-based Target has continued to enjoy overall same-store sales growth, driven in part by its expanding grocery business, Richfield-based Best Buy has struggled in that metric, hurt by weak sales of televisions.

An investment note Wednesday from Cleveland Research suggested that Best Buy might generate the first  positive U.S. same-store comparisons in several quarters, sending the company stock up 2.2 percent on a day when the overall market fell on worries of the European debt crisis.

Finally, the Ceridian-UCLA Pulse of Commerce Index  came out this week, showing an uptick in the over-the-road movement of goods on U.S. highways, the first positive move in the index in three months.

The index captures diesel fuel purchased by trucking companies moving goods over the nation’s highways, based on Minneapolis-based Ceridian Corp. purchase card processing data. The index rose 1.1 percent in October after three consecutive months of negative numbers and a three-month moving average falling at annualized rate of 5.8 percent.

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Ed Leamer, chief economist for the index, called the positive move “great news” but cautioned that it does not offset declines seen in July and August.

“We can breathe a sigh of relief that our trucking is rolling again, but on a three-month moving average, it is still turning down,” Leamer said. “That’s symptomatic of an economy having a hard time finding any real traction.” As one indicator of the difficulty the economy is having, he pointed to recent gross domestic product numbers. Those numbers, which have been falling since the middle of the summer, fell a full percentage point last month.

The PCI index captures “inventories in motion,” Leamer said.

He predicted that it will either bounce back sharply as retailers “realize they didn’t stock enough for the holiday season, or maybe holiday sales are not going to be as good as many people are thinking.”