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NEW YORK CITY-Scratch at least one prediction of a modest increase in holiday retail sales. After a November performance that the International Council of Shopping Centers Retail industry dubbed “an awful beginning to the holiday season,” the association has revised its holiday sales forecast from a 1% same-store sales increase to flat to down 1%, the weakest performance on record.

Comparable-store sales for the four-week fiscal month of November declined 2.7% from the same month last year, its worst showing in more than 35 years, according to ICSC’s Chain Store Sales Trends.

“To be sure, there were special factors for this degree of weakness–namely, a calendar shift (ICSC Research estimates was a drag of between 1.5 and 2 percentage points on aggregate year-over-year percentage change in sales) and declining gasoline prices lowering wholesale club sales (which had a negligible aggregate effect),” wrote Michael P. Niemira, ICSC chief economist and director of research. “But the underlying trend was best described by one retailer who said the holiday season got off to a difficult start. Indeed.”

In fact, if not for Wal-Mart’s 3% increase, sales would have plunged a record 7.7% (since the index was first calculated in November 1991). All sectors saw a decline, with apparel-specialty off 10.4% (its teen segment down 14.8%), department stores plunging 13.3% as its luxury sub-segment declined by 10.5%, discounters down 1%, drug stores declining by 0.6% and wholesale club sales down by 2.4%.

A couple of chains did post gains: Cato saw a 2% comp increase and BJ’s Wholesale Club posted a 4.1% gain. However, Abercrombie & Fitch had a 28% drop and Kohl’s saw a 17.5% decline. Some retailers noted that Black Friday sales were strong, Niemira wrote, with Macy’s claiming the largest Black Friday in the company’s history.

Still, ICSC said, the “strong headwind for this holiday season and the weaker-than-expected actual November sales performance” will result in a 1.5% sales gain in December, creating the weakest holiday sales season on record.

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