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Retail Reports Could Hold Holiday Clues

All signs point to a healthy November when chain stores report to Wall Street on Thursday. The drama for investors is what they say about the holiday season.

The current batch of sales data will include results from Black Friday and the following Saturday, when shoppers flooded into discount stores and electronics chains in search of holiday markdowns. Early returns on the post-Thanksgiving rush indicate a great turnout, although aggressive pricing and promotions have stoked concern about whether the spending will continue into December.

"We won't see too much in terms of earnings guidance tomorrow, since it's just the first month of the quarter and retailers are still cautious about how the season will turn out," said Ken Perkins, president of Retail Metrics LLC. "Investors will certainly have their ears peeled for any color that retailers can provide on Black Friday weekend and how things have gone since then."

Overall, the International Council of Shopping Centers is expecting a 3.5% to 4% gain in November same-store sales for its aggregate index that tracks results over 70 major retailers. That compares to a light month last year, when November comps rose 1.7%.

Same-store sales, or comps, serve as a key measure of a retailer's performance, covering sales at locations that have been open for at least one year.

The results should get a boost from the holiday weekend, when the National Retail Federation reported that sales rose 22% over last year, with retailers recording an estimated total of $27.8 billion in sales. That figure is extrapolated from a survey of over 4,000 consumers. Perkins said it's probably on the high side, but it does reflect a successful beginning for a holiday season that is expected to yield a total sales gain of 5% to 6% over last year's November-December period.

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