[Paleopsych] NYT: Buying Birds for a Song? Well, Not This Year

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Sun Dec 25 01:18:25 UTC 2005

Buying Birds for a Song? Well, Not This Year

[This is our Christmas card to one and all. Don't overeat.]


Modern-day woes like avian flu and energy prices are making it more trying and
costly than ever to please one's true love with gifts from the classic holiday
carol "12 Days of Christmas."

The partridge to the 12 drummers - and everything in between - would set the
giver back $18,348, said PNC Advisors, the wealth management firm that compiles
each year the cost of the English song's tokens of affection.

The price tag is up 6.1 percent over last year's total of $17,296, the firm said.
That was a big jump compared with the 1.6 percent increase last year.

The latest factor making it more difficult to gather the carol's gifts is the
threat of avian flu, which has limited international shipments of birds and
precluded purchasing the three French hens from France. However, Jeff Kleintop,
PNC's chief investment strategist, who oversees the index each year, said that
United States breeders are still providing domestically raised French hens for
the same price as last year.

Even so, some of the song's other fowl cost substantially more this year. Six
geese-a-laying are up almost 43 percent, and the seven swans-a-swimming went up
20 percent, both because of delivery costs pushed up by higher fuel prices.

(Swans have long been a tricky item to include because trumpeter swan breeding
cycles vary widely. When the index was started in 1984, each swan cost $1,000,
but the prices have varied since then, declining for several years until this
year, when they rose to $600. PNC also calculates a core index that excludes
their variable price.)

Generally, larger items like the geese and swans - as well as the pear tree,
which went up 15 percent this year - cost more because of the labor involved in
crating and packing, along with the higher shipping costs, Mr. Kleintop said.

"Not only are avian flu fears and fuel costs driving prices higher," he added,
"but gold prices are also on the rise." The five gold rings, the gift for the
fifth day, cost $325 - up 27.5 percent over last year's $255.

"The growing middle class worldwide is driving the demand for gold," Mr. Kleintop
said, "and jewelry is a popular gift, so that boosts the price."

In contrast, the cost of almost all of the verse's skilled workers - from
maids-a-milking, lords-a-leaping, pipers piping to drummers drumming - remained
static. The milk maids were a bargain since, once again this year, they each were
calculated at $41.20 based on receiving the $5.15 minimum hourly wage.

Only the ladies dancing were pricier, and that's because they received a pay
raise. PNC bases its calculation of the cost of the ladies dancing on information
from Philadanco, the Philadelphia Dance Company, which gave its dancers a 4
percent raise this year. PNC Advisors, a unit of the PNC Financial Services
Group, the Pittsburgh-based banking company, calculated that each dancing lady
cost $508.46 to provide.

PNC began calculating the index 21 years ago as an amusing measure of how well
the cost of the song's goods and services tracks the government's Consumer Price
Index. In past years, the Christmas index matched the consumer index, which
measures a broader range of goods and services, more closely. That is not the
case this year. The consumer index rose 3.5 percent over the 11 months ended in

In past years, the romantically inclined giver had been able to trim some costs
by searching for Internet bargains. But this year, there are no savings to be had
there because of higher delivery costs. The overall Internet cost in 2005 was
$29,322, up 5.7 percent over last year because of higher shipping and handling
costs, PNC said.

That is still a fraction of the $72,608 cost to give the song's gifts repeatedly
- a huge 364 items. The cost was up 9.5 percent over last year's $66,344 cost,
Mr. Kleintop explained, because when the whopping increases in items like gold
rings and geese are multiplied over the 12 days of Christmas giving, "that really
adds to the bottom line."

Asked whether anyone had ever contacted PNC to report assembling all the carol's
gifts, Mr. Kleintop, chuckling, said: "No, but it would be a good entry for some
of the luxury catalogs, wouldn't it?"

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