Shoppers walk through the food court at the Easton Town Center Mall in Columbus, Ohio.

Luke Sharrett | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Retail sales were strong in December, and for the holiday shopping period they could be up close to 5%, slightly better than other industry forecasts, according to Bank of America economists.

Using BofA aggregated credit and debit card data, BofA Securities economists said December sales increased 0.3% over the month earlier and 3.2% year-over-year. The economists expect to see a similar 0.3% gain in Census Bureau retail sales, when they are reported Thursday.

“Assuming our forecast is correct, Census Bureau holiday sales, which are defined as retail ex-auto & gas for November and December combined, would

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