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USA TODAY

The International Council of Shopping Centers said Wednesday that retail sales the week ended Dec. 22 were up just 0.7%, but the group said it's holding to its forecast for a 3% increase in sales for the holiday season.

The ICSC number is in stark contrast to the 0.7% increase MasterCard Advisors said Tuesday that it saw for sales in the two months leading up to Christmas. MasterCard did note that sales the week after Christmas account for about 15% of holiday sales, so that could brighten the picture.

When shoppers show up to redeem gift cards and return or exchange gifts, they often spend far more than the value of the gifts or cards. Gift cards are the most popular last minute gift, according to a Consumer Reports poll. And their sales aren't counted until they are redeemed.

Shoppers got off to a slow start in December, following a busy -- and long - Black Friday shopping period. But they got their second wind and stepped up their shopping the week ended Dec. 15, ICSC chief economist Michael Niemira says.

He wasn't sure the momentum would carry through the few days leading up to Christmas. Wintry weather in much of the country may have kept shoppers home.

Niemira said the weekly sales out today were being compared to a week last year that included Christmas Eve, so he expected the current week's sales will be boosted even more by the calendar shift. His group is holding to its prediction of a 4% to 4.5% increase in December retail sales and a 3.0% increase overall for the holiday season.

That's not as optimistic as some other predictions, including that of the National Retail Federation, which is still holding to its prediction that sales will be up 4.1%.

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