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Retail sales just ho-hum this holiday season

Preliminary reports show holiday sales rose only 0.7 percent over November and December, which could be the economy's worst holiday performance since 2008.

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Investors were wary. The S&P 500 retail stock index declined nearly 1 percent on Wednesday morning, while the S&P 500 dipped 0.2 percent.

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Some of the winning retailers were expected to be Wal-Mart Stores Inc, which attracted shoppers with early deals on the night of Thanksgiving and kept its focus on value, and apparel chains like Gap Inc, whose bright sweaters were successful, according to analysts.

Toys sold well across various chains, and hot items that were harder to find later in the season included certain Mattel Inc's Barbie dolls and LeapFrog Enterprises Inc's LeapPad2, according to B. Riley Caris analyst Linda Bolton Weiser.

The LeapPad2, an updated version of a 2011 bestselling tablet for kids, was on many top toy lists before the season began.

Sales recovered in the second part of November, with early hours and promotions helping drive traffic during the Black Friday weekend, analysts said.

But there was a deep lull in early December as a winter storm in parts of the United States may have limited sales, said McNamara.

The SpendingPulse data estimates sales of apparel, electronics, luxury goods, online and furnishings across all payment types, including credit cards, cash and checks, and not just the MasterCard payment network.

Aside from the weather, some analysts also said shoppers may have curbed spending due to concerns about whether Washington will reach an agreement to avert the "fiscal cliff" of tax hikes and spending cuts that take effect in the new year.

However, according to recent Ipsos polls for Reuters, roughly two-thirds of American adults said the fiscal cliff did not affect their holiday spending plans, and just 17 percent said they were spending less this year because of it.

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