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Retailers report higher December sales

NEW YORK – A last-minute surge in spending helped many major retailers report better-than-expected sales in December, a relief for stores that make up to 40 percent of annual revenue during the holiday period.

Consumers had a lot to worry about this holiday, including the possibility of the U.S. economy falling off the "fiscal cliff." But after spending cautiously during most of the season, they loosened their purse strings in the final shopping days.

Twenty retailers reported sales in December rose an average of 4.5 percent compared with the year-ago period, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers. That's on the high end of the expected range of 4 percent to 4.5 percent. Costco, Nordstrom and TJX Cos. were among the best performers. Target and Barnes & Noble had weaker results.

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