NEW YORK – Generous discounts lured Americans to stores and online for holiday gifts in November, providing cheer and delivering the best sales gains for retailers in four years.

That raises hopes, already buoyed by reports of crowded malls and early numbers, for a strong holiday shopping season and is an encouraging sign for the economic recovery.

The International Council of Shopping Centers’ index reported a 5.8 percent gain, much better than the expected increase of 3-to-4 percent in November.

It was the biggest increase since March when a quirk of the Easter calendar resulted in a 9 percent gain in sales. Aside from that month, the last time retailers reported such a big increase was in September 2006, when sales were up 6.2 percent.

“All forces came together to yield a performance better than what we’ve seen in the last four years,” said Mike Niemira, chief economist at International Council of Shopping Centers. November’s sales results are being compared with weak spending over the last two years, but Niemira said that plenty of discounting along with what appears to be a sustained recovery are helping to boost spending.

As retailers report their monthly results Thursday, they showed that many types of shoppers were in the mood to buy — if the product and price were right. Stores reporting gains that topped Wall Street expectations included Costco Wholesale Corp., Target Corp., Victoria’s Secret and pricey teen retailer Abercrombie & Fitch.

The results are based on revenue at stores opened at least a year, which are considered a key indicator of a retailer’s health.