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Retail group raises holiday sales forecast as stores extend hours

December 15, 2011 |  9:10 pm

Shoppers grab television sets at a store in Knoxville, Tenn., on Black Friday.

With just nine days to go until Christmas and shoppers out in force at malls around the country, the nation's largest retail group is raising its sales forecast for the holiday season.

The National Retail Federation predicted holiday sales to rise 3.8% to $469.1 billion, up from its earlier estimate of 2.8%. That's far below the 5.2% increase retailers enjoyed last year, but it's a step up from the 10-year average of 2.6%.

"After strong sales reports in October and November, along with a successful Black Friday weekend, retailers are cautiously optimistic that this season will turn out better than initially expected," said Matthew Shay, the retail group's president and chief executive.

Among the signs pointing to a decent season for retailers: Shoppers, on average, still have more than half their holiday buying left to complete, according to a survey by the retail group. Nearly 37 million people have not even started, the survey found.

That gives retailers hope that procrastinators will head to stores in the last week and a half before Christmas, and many are staying open longer in the last stretch before Dec. 25.

Starting on Wednesday, Macy's Inc. is planning to keep 14 of its stores open for a straight 83 hours. Toys R Us will keep all its stores open for 112 hours straight from Tuesday until Christmas Eve.

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-- Shan Li

Photo: Shoppers grab television sets at a store in Knoxville, Tenn., minutes after it opened Nov. 25. Credit: Wade Payne / Associated Press