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The War Over Christmas Starts Now

Tickers in this article: URBN BBY WMT MSFT AAPL LULU BEBE PLCE EXPR GAP
NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Black Friday gets its name because it is, supposedly, the day when most stores go into the black for the year. But whether the year is good or bad depends heavily on what happens between now and Christmas.

The War Over Christmas is fought in the parking lots, in the aisles and, increasingly, in your pajamas. Where, what and how we buy constantly changes, and what we decide to do at this time of year calls the tune.

Investors have already placed their bets, and we'll be watching the sales tape closely to see which horses come in and which fail to justify our financial love.

Over the last six months most big retailers have been on the up, with gains for some of the biggest averaging about 10%. But a few clothing chains have been especially hot -- Urban Outfitters (URBN) , Lululemon(LULU) and the Gap(GPS) all need to have big seasons in order to justify investor confidence.

Laggards like Bebe Stores (BEBE) , Express(EXPR) and The Childrens Place (PLCE) are hoping an upside surprise can make up for the year's market losses.

Then there's Apple (AAPL) . Despite its plunge since October, Apple is up 37% for the year so far. That's a gain of nearly $200 billion in market cap, much of it riding on crowded Apple stores all over the country, tons of clicking at the Apple site on Cyber Monday, and the ability of its Chinese elves to deliver the goods.

As the curtain rises on the retailing Super Bowl we see our players poised and announcers (like yours truly) asking a whole bunch of questions.

Here are the top five questions entering the holiday:

  1. Will Wal-Mart's(WMT) game be affected at all by labor action? The liberal site DailyKos is doing its best to whip up a confrontation. Will shoppers go elsewhere as a result? Or will it all fizzle in a flood of happy bargain-hunters? This should be the first story you hear about on waking up Friday morning.
  2. Will the fiscal cliff steal Christmas? The National Retail Federation is expecting sales to be up 4.1% this year over last. But will all the doom and gloom at CNBC over the fiscal cliff cause people to keep their wallets in their pockets, fearful there will be no deal? We won't get any read on this until the middle of December, and investors should look for data, not anecdote.
  3. Will Black Friday's move to Thursday have any impact? McClatchy writes that many stores are opening for Black Friday on Thursday, some before shoppers can digest their turkey (or workers can eat theirs). Are they stealing sales from rivals, or from themselves? Look closely at same-store sales figures for the claim-jumpers the minute they come out for a clue.
  4. Are people really going to be buying on Friday, or just taking a family walk and collecting data before clicking "buy" on Cyber Monday? Best Buy (BBY) is hoping they ignore the siren song of Black Friday apps as written up by TCPalm.
  5. With most stores offering only cheap Android-based tablets, and carriers pushing plans based on cheap Android phones, does Microsoft's (MSFT) Windows 8 really stand a chance of success? My friend Steven Vaughan-Nichols at ZDNetdutifully writes up the offerings, with an extra helping of snark.