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Research firm predicts stronger holiday shopping

NEW YORK (AP) -- Americans may shop slightly more during the holidays this year compared with last, a research firm predicted on Monday.

The International Council of Shopping Centers predicts revenue will rise 3.4 percent during the all-important November and December holiday shopping months, when retailers can make up to 40 percent of their annual sales. Last year the figure rose 3 percent.

The period is particularly important this year since spending was weak during the back-to-school shopping period, the second-busiest shopping months of the year.

While the job picture has been improving in the U.S. and the turnaround in the housing market is gaining traction, the improvements have not been enough to sustain higher levels of spending for most Americans. Most continue to juggle tepid wage gains with a higher cost of living.

"We're going to see a more subdued spending mood from consumers, but what counts is that we're on track to have a better holiday sales season that last year," said Michael Niemira, vice president of research and chief economist for ICSC.

The outlook was somewhat brighter than one from Chicago-based research firm ShopperTrak. Earlier this month, ShopperTrak predicted that retail revenue would rise 2.4 percent during the holiday shopping season, down from a 3 percent rise last year.

This year, there's a shorter shopping window between Black Friday — the day after Thanksgiving, which is usually the biggest shopping day of the year — and Christmas. Last year there were 32 days during the period and this year there are 25.

The retail industry is still waiting for a widely watched holiday forecast from the National Retail Federation, the nation's largest retail trade group, which will be issuing its report in early October.