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NEW YORK | Retailers just got an early Christmas gift: Americans are expected to spend more than they did last year during the holidays.

Retail sales in November and December are expected to be up 3 percent during what is traditionally the biggest shopping period of the year, research firm ShopperTrak said Tuesday.

The sales predication, which matches the outlook from the International Council of Shopping Centers on Friday, would be below last year’s 4.1 percent spike, and the 5-plus percent gains during boom economic times. But it’s still above the 2.6 percent average gain over the last 10 years and is considered respectable growth given the down economy.

The industry is still waiting for a widely watched forecast Oct. 6 from the National Retail Federation, the nation’s largest retail trade group. But the ShopperTrak and ICSC predictions are the first look at how retailers might fare during a period that can account for up to 40 percent of merchants’ annual revenue.

REAL ESTATE

Home sales jump as foreclosures rise

The number of Americans who bought previously occupied homes rose in August. But sales were driven by an increase in foreclosures, a sign that home prices could fall further next year and slow a housing recovery.

The National Association of Realtors said Wednesday that home sales rose 7.7 percent last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.03 million homes. That’s below the 6 million that economists say is consistent with a healthy housing market.

Last month’s pace was slightly ahead of the 4.91 million sold in 2010, the worst sales level in 13 years.

Homes at risk of foreclosure made up 31 percent of sales. That’s up from 29 percent in July. Many are being bought by investors.

At the same time, activity among first-time buyers, who are critical to reviving the housing market, didn’t budge. First-time buyers made up only 32 percent of sales, matching the July level. They normally make up 50 percent of home sales in healthy markets.

NEW YORK

Bill Gates tops Forbes list of richest Americans

NEW YORK | Bill Gates tops this year’s Forbes list of the 400 richest Americans with a net worth calculated at $59 billion.

Forbes says the Microsoft co-founder saw his wealth increase by $5 billion from last year.

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