In a report issued today by the National Retail Federation, holiday sales are supposed to rise just 4% this year to $474.5 billion, marking the lowest gain since 2002. An article in this morning's Wall Street Journal noted that The NRF forecast follows a similarly gloomy one issued this week by TNS Retail Forward . that predicted an increase of just 3.3% in fourth-quarter sales this year.

On, Douglas McIntyre opined that Anyone surprised by the news must have been living under a rock for the last two months. Mortgage defaults, falling home prices and rising energy costs are crimping the U.S. consumer. McIntyre adds, There will be coal in the stockings this Christmas.

In early trading this morning, the AMEX Retail HOLDRs Trust (RTH) has slipped 1.3% and the S&P Retail Index (RLX) is down 1.6%. Wal-Mart Stores (WMT), the world's largest retailer that would undoubtedly be affected by slower holiday-sales growth, has drifted 0.8% lower so far today.

And despite good news, Kohl's has been unable to move into the black today. Shortly before the open, the department-store chain announced its board's approval for a buyback of $2.5 billion of its own stock during the next 3 years. The retailer's Chairman/CEO Larry Montgomery said the buyback reflects our strong balance sheet, confidence in our long-term growth and our commitment to returning value to shareholders. With the stock having lost a quarter of its value in the past 5 months, now seems like an opportune time for the stock to scoop up some of its own stock at a bargain price.