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updated 12/30/2008 11:10:14 AM ET 2008-12-30T16:10:14

The U.S. recession, heavy discounting by retailers and a nasty mix of winter weather in the days before Christmas combined to produce the worst holiday season since at least 1970, the International Council of Shopping Centers said on Tuesday.

Sales at U.S. chain stores fell 1.8 percent in the week ending December 27, as compared with the previous year, while sales fell 1.5 percent compared with the prior week, according to the ICSC-Goldman Sachs Weekly Chain Store Sales index.

Same-store sales are sales at stores opened at least a year and are considered a key indicator of a retailer's health.

While there is still one more week left in the fiscal month of December for retailers to capture holiday sales, “I don’t have a lot of hope that it gives you a surprise lift,” Michael Niemira, the ICSC’s chief economist, told Reuters. “The discounts are so great and demand is so uncertain and uneven.”

The ICSC expects holiday sales, which measures sales in November and December, to fall 1.5 percent to 2 percent. That would represent the weakest performance since the ICSC began tracking such data in 1969.

The ICSC expects December sales at stores open at least a year to be down 1 percent or “possibly more.”

Holiday sales usually account for 30 percent to 50 percent of a retailer's annual revenue. This year, however, many retailers struggled during the season as layoffs, economic woes and poor weather had many Americans cutting back on their spending.

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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