December Retail Sales Popped 4.5%

Retail sales may have jumped as much as 4.5 percent in December, more than previously estimated, as shoppers took advantage of steep discounts and longer store hours during the holiday shopping season.

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Sales at stores open more than a year were earlier projected to have advanced as much as 4 percent, the International Council of Shopping Centers said today in a statement.

Sales at retail stores rose 5.3 percent last month compared to a year earlier. Sales were also up for the last two weeks of December, compared to the end of 2010, as retailers extended store hours and benefited from Christmas Eve falling on a Saturday, providing a strong final day of shopping for the holidays.

In the week after Christmas, sales remained high as stores like Macy’s (NYSE:M), Target (NYSE:TGT), and Gap Inc. (NYSE:GPS) offered discounts on already marked-down merchandise. Store and online sales on December 26 soared to an estimated $29 billion, up from $20 billion last year.

“The last few weeks of December helped to lift the full-month performance above our earlier expectation,” said ICSC chief economist Michael Niemira.

Last month, the National Retail Federation raised its holiday shopping season forecasts after steeper discounts and earlier opening hours boosting Thanksgiving weekend sales to a record-breaking $52.4 billion. The group said sales may increase 3.8 percent to a record $469.1 billion in November and December, well above the 10-year average of 2.6 percent growth, but slower than last year’s 5.2 percent increase.

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