NEW YORK — Sentiment is growing within financial circles that the retail recovery that eluded stores in the second half of 2002 might stage an encore no-show in the new year.

Having just digested what many are calling the worst holiday season in 30 years, retailers are now faced with the daunting task of luring customers who are coping with either the reality or possibility of higher taxes, fuel prices and debt, along with less job security and wage growth. The prospects of a war with Iraq, a showdown with North Korea and continued political instability in Venezuela loom large, as well.

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