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Retail holiday hopes flicker

New York — What's white and white and orange all over? The last three weekends before Christmas. And it doesn't bode well for retailers trying to make their holiday green.

After two weekends where snow blanketed large, densely populated markets around the country, the government yesterday raised its terrorism threat level from "Yellow" to "Orange," possibly digging into stores' last hopes for a stronger Christmas selling season.

This morning, Wal-Mart repeated its expectations that December sales will only reach the low end of its three to five percent forecast, and Target said it will offer its weekly update after the stock market closes this afternoon.

This should have been the busiest shopping weekend of the year, based on recent years' experience. In nearby Wayne, NJ, customer traffic was brisk but not crushing earlier in the day Sunday, although there were some traffic jams around malls that extended more than six miles. It might only have been coincidence, but within hours of the government's announcement stepping up security, those same roads were flowing freely and there was easy parking to be found near the stores.

With less than 60 hours remaining, many merchants weren't prepared to surrender. Macy's was on television this morning advertising its after-Christmas sale for today and tomorrow, and JCPenney was keeping up the advertising pressure, too. Target and Brookstone, were still promising rush Christmas delivery for online orders placed today.

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