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    Thanksgiving Weekend Sales Up 4.8 Percent

    NEW YORK - As the holiday season kicked off over Thanksgiving weekend, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and other discounters reported the strongest sales. Total retail sales Friday were up 4.8 percent to $7.2 billion from the same period a year ago, according to ShopperTrak.

    NEW YORK - As the holiday season kicked off over Thanksgiving weekend, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and other discounters reported the strongest sales.

    Total retail sales Friday were up 4.8 percent to $7.2 billion from the same period a year ago, according to ShopperTrak, which tallies sales at 30,000 retail outlets. In 2002 sales were up 6.8 percent vs. 2001 results.

    For Friday and Saturday combined, total sales were up about 5.5 percent, according to retail analyst Michael P. Niemira, a consultant with ShopperTrak. Niemira described business as stronger for discounters than it was for department stores and apparel merchants.

    Walter Loeb, owner of a New York-based retail consulting firm, concurred. "Sales appear to be better than last year, but the consumer is still value-oriented and is looking for sales," he told The Associated Press.

    Wal-Mart said it hit a single-day company sales record on Friday, taking in more than $1.52 billion nationally, compared to $1.43 billion for the day after Thanksgiving a year ago.

    Ellen Tolley, spokeswoman at the National Retail Federation, noted that "it looks like (store) traffic was about the same as last year, possible a little better than last year."

    "It was as good as we had hoped for," she said.

    The NRF is projecting a 5.7 percent increase in holiday sales, for total estimated revenues of $217.4 billion.

    Niemira said he forecasts a sales gain of 4.5 percent for the November-December period, the best performance since 1999, when sales rose 5.4 percent. He based the estimate on sales from stores open at least a year, considered the best indicator of a retailer's health. Last holiday season's results were unchanged from 2001.

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