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Economy & Business

A Festive Take on Economic Hardship

The latest indicator of tough times for American consumers comes gift wrapped from Pittsburgh-based PNC Financial Services Group, Inc.

Every holiday season since 1986, PNC analysts price each of the exotic gift items mentioned in "The Twelve Days of Christmas," a data set they use to tabulate the annual Christmas Price Index (CPI).

2011 numbers show the total market cost for the full twelve-day shopping spree exceeds $100,000 for the first time in the study's 25-year history, at $101,119. That represents a 4.4 percent increase over 2010 data.

Birds Soar

Swans-a-swimming posted the largest gains as a measure of dollar-cost, nearly doubling last year's price at $6,300 for the full set of seven fowl. True-loves with turtle doves on their shopping lists will also feel squeezed in the nutcracker of volatile supply and demand, according to this year's CPI. Two of the birds will set you back about $125, a 25 percent jump from 2010.

Partridges and pear trees are both up as well, though the report notes that the latter figure bucks a continuing downward trend in home prices nationwide. "Perhaps Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke will see this as a signal that stronger housing prices are coming back," the authors speculate.

Wages Stagnant

As in the larger economy, skilled workers — represented here by pipers-piping and drummers-drumming — received modest pay raises, while maids earning minimum wage a-milking saw their income remain flat for the second straight year.

While not statistically among the so-called "one percent," lords-a-leaping and ladies-dancing were by far the best-compensated sector of the song's labor market, collectively bringing in more than ten times the income of their working-class counterparts.

But Seriously

Although PNC's self-styled "CPI" parodies the U.S. Labor Department's Consumer Price Index, which measures the cost of living for American consumers, there is some convergence between the two economic snapshots.

"Typically, we see parallels between our Index and the Federal government's," said James Dunigan, managing executive of investments for PNC Wealth Management. The Christmas Price Index uses real economic data, but PNC stresses that it's not a scientific study. "Let's keep in mind that we are talking about a small basket of goods and services here compared to the Consumer Price Index," Dunigan said.

The government's CPI for October actually posted a slight, though still unexpected, drop of 0.1 percent, after rising nearly nearly half-a-percent over the previous 12 months. The seasonally adjusted CPI excludes prices for volatile items like food and fuel, both of which have seen substantial increases in 2011.