The nation's retailers are set to usher in the holiday shopping season today with pre-dawn openings, deep discounts and a downright dismal economic outlook that threatens to keep shoppers' credit cards securely in their wallets.

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CHICAGO — The nation’s retailers are set to usher in the holiday shopping season today with pre-dawn openings, deep discounts and a downright dismal economic outlook that threatens to keep shoppers’ credit cards securely in their wallets.

Stores are extending their hours — some opening at midnight — and preparing for a surge of shoppers searching for discounts that promise to be even deeper than a year ago. But the question remains whether anyone will be spending much money as a recession nears, credit markets remain frozen, layoffs loom and consumer spending shrinks.

“We think the numbers are going to be pretty bad across the board,” Morningstar analyst Brady Lemos said.

That’s not stopping sales associates at Target from handing out maps showing just where to find hot items, such as the 26-inch flat-screen HDTV by Westinghouse that’s available for $299.

At Wal-Mart, a Magnavox Blu-ray player is on sale for $128.

Meanwhile, at some Best Buy sites, coffee and doughnuts will be available for customers waiting for doors to open at 5 a.m.

Inside, they’ll find Toshiba laptops starting at $379.99 and a Garmin GPS system for $189.99.

And at J.C. Penney, there’ll be 20 percent more items especially discounted for holiday shopping’s opening day. That includes the half-carat diamond necklace that’s $79.99.

The day after Thanksgiving was the biggest sales generator of the season last year. While it isn’t a predictor of holiday season sales, the holiday season’s first shopping day is an important barometer of people’s willingness to spend.

Last year, the Thanksgiving shopping weekend of Friday through Sunday accounted for about 10 percent of overall holiday sales, according to ShopperTrak RCT.

Britt Beemer, chairman of America’s Research Group, expects to see a surge of shoppers for the early-morning deals today but predicts crowds will taper off throughout the day and into the weekend.

“Will it carry over past 10 a.m.?” Beemer said. “The bottom line is a great day does not make a season.”

Information from Associated Press reporter Anne D’Innocenzio

in New York is included in this report.