Could the 2012 holiday shopping season be the best one since the recession? Planners seeking clues to the performance of the U.S. retail sector should consider an industry group’s projection that sales for the November-December time period will increase 4.1% this year.

This is the most optimistic forecast released by the National Retail Federation since the recession. And if it proves right, it would exceed the 10-year average holiday sales increase of 3.5%, according to the federation.

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