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NEW YORK CITY-Pent-up demand for last minute Christmas and Hanukkah gifts helped sales at US chain stores surge by 3.9%, making last week’s retail sales the strongest since November.

According to a report by the International Council of Shopping Centers and UBS Securities LLC released Wednesday, sales were up 2.8% in the week leading up to Dec. 25, marking the best week of the season. Sales the previous week were also up 2.4%, the report said. Compared to the same weeks last year, sales were up 3.9% for the seven-day period ending Dec. 24, matching the prior week’s results.

The beginning of the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah at sundown Christmas Day also boosted the week’s performance, with Friday sales particularly strong. Gift card demand also remained high throughout the week, says Michael Niemira, the ICSC’s chief economist.

“The consumer was shopping late and using gift cards more, and what that did was change the character of the holiday season,” Niemira says. “It means it came down to the holiday wire and beyond.”

Niemira says the holiday shopping season should continue through the end of January with about 60% of gift card redemptions occurring during that period.

At shopping malls, sales were also strong, rising 26% last week compared with a year earlier and jumping 30% compared with the previous week, said ShopperTrak RCT Corp., a Chicago-based research group that tracks sales at shopping centers and malls. Sales increased an average of 7.4% per week this season, the group said. The last-minute shopping surge was due to a longer holiday shopping season and the large number of shoppers who took off work on Friday, the second biggest sales day of the season next to the day after Thanksgiving, ShopperTrak said.

The National Retail Federation said shoppers were expected to spend $439.5 billion this holiday season, accounting for a 6% increase compared to last year. Gift card sales accounted for an estimated $18.5% of that number, the Washington, DC-based trade group said.

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