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Holiday sales rose 3 percent, retail group says; season falls short as shoppers hold back

A major retail trade organization is announcing that holiday sales rose 3 percent, below its forecast for a 4.1 percent gain.

The season was marked by heavy discounting in its final days as stores tried to unload excess goods after shoppers held back on spending.

The National Retail Federation said Tuesday that retail sales for November and December combined totaled $579.8 billion.

Holiday sales rose 5.6 percent in 2011 and 5.5 percent in 2010.

The November and December period can account for as much as 40 percent of retailers' annual revenue.

For the first time, the federation is counting online sales and sales from the auto parts and accessories business. Non-store sales, which includes online sales, rose 11 percent.

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