The Christmas selling season got off to its now traditional start this week: Debenhams held a Sale.

This year there is an extra dimension to seasonal performance as the sector’s fortunes will unlock, or slam shut, the door to IPOs in the new year.

Following Pets at Home’s appointment of advisers to assess a float, rising fashion star Supergroup is targeting the FTSE 250 and has hired Seymour Pierce to advise.

All year, retail stocks have been in demand as investors have taken advantage of bombed out prices. This appetite has made owners of private chains more confident they can pull off IPOs or sales as long as Christmas works.

There are encouraging signs. Top retailers have spoken with increasing confidence about an end to recession.

On Tuesday SVG Capital, one of the main investors in Permira and so in retailers such as New Look, said “prospects for realisation activity, particularly for the more mature and defensive investments, are improving”.

That’s a view echoed in the Square Mile but, even so, a raft of remaining uncertainties could hole flotation plans. Any signs that Christmas trading is proving difficult, for instance, may provoke a hasty investor retreat as shareholders rush to crystallise gains. Should that happen, sentiment will take a long time to recover.

Similarly, despite indications that shoppers are relaxing their purse strings, 2010 is full of uncertainties. Consumers may be wealthier now, but realise they face harder times as soon as the election is out of the way. The fear is 1950s-style austerity as national debt is addressed.The young, who sustained the fortunes of many fashion groups by continuing to spend, are now bearing the brunt of recession – youth unemployment is at a record high.

Elsewhere, retailers have pulled off their IPOs. Down under, Myer was a bit disappointing but Kathmandu did well. Stateside, Dollar General and Rue21 rose on their debuts last week. In each case, initial pricing was key. In the UK’s torrid conditions too, the right price will make all the difference. Will private owners’ right price be the same as the market’s?

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