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by Anne D'Innocenzio

NEW YORK, NY – Many retailers posted solid sales during the kickoff to the back-to-school season as deep discounts and sweltering heat in July drove shoppers to air conditioned malls. But merchants worry that momentum won’t continue throughout the remainder of the second-biggest shopping period of the year.

Despite a flow of bad economic news that kept consumer confidence shaky, a wide range of retailers that reported July sales on Thursday delivered results that beat Wall Street estimates, including discounter Target, department store Macy’s. and luxury chain Saks. The International Council of Shopping Centers’ preliminary tally of retailers’ sales at stores open at least a year — a key indicator of a merchant’s health — was up 4.6%, a slower pace than June’s 6.9% gain but in line with forecasts.

While the numbers signal a strong start to the back-to-school shopping period, roughly between mid-July through September, there are concerns that shoppers will soon return to their habits of the Great Recession by focusing on necessities and waiting for ever bigger discounts. That could be a big problem for retailers, which are raising prices in order to offset with rising fuel, labor and other production costs.

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