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    Wal-Mart Predicts Flat Same-store Sales Growth for December

    BENTONVILLE, Ark. - Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. confirmed yesterday that its November same-store sales fell 0.1 percent -- its first monthly decline since April 1996 - and said it expects December same-store sales to increase no more than 1 percent.

    BENTONVILLE, Ark. - Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. confirmed yesterday that its November same-store sales fell 0.1 percent -- its first monthly decline since April 1996 - and said it expects December same-store sales to increase no more than 1 percent.

    Total sales for the four-week period ended Nov. 24 rose 11.9 percent to $28.57 billion. Wal-Mart's discount stores and supercenters saw a 0.5 percent decline in comps, while same-store sales at its Sam's Club division increased 2 percent.

    The retailer said food, electronics, and pharmacy were among its strongest categories in November, as it cut prices on plasma televisions and expanded its $4 generic drugs program nationwide.

    Comparable store sales in food were in the mid-single digits.

    The home and apparel business have been more challenging for Wal-Mart, however.

    Increases in average ticket drove the comparable sales figure, while traffic declined, Wal-Mart said.

    The company saw a negative impact on comparable store sales of approximately 80 basis points from the hurricane-related sales last year.

    "Comparable store sales in the U.S. for the December five-week period are estimated to be 0 to 1 percent," said Tom Schoewe, Wal-Mart Stores e.v.p. and c.f.o., in a statment. "Factors impacting our December comparable store sales estimate include the impact of the hurricanes from last year and continued challenges in our apparel and home business. We expect to see improvements in our apparel and home categories by spring."

    Richard D. Hastings, v.p. and senior retail sector analyst with Smyth-Bernard Sands LLC, called the negative 0.5 percent comp data from Wal-Mart's U.S. supercenters/discount division a "bearish indicator for lower income household economic conditions."

    He said it's "likely that Wal-Mart's many initiatives to test upscale merchandise, upscale foods, and natural and organic foods, and generic drugs ... are attempts to respond to the unpleasant fact that their core consumer base -- the less-than-wealthy -- are point-blank running out of gas."

    If this is the case, continued Hastings, then "experiments in fashion and store remodels would only worsen the situation and invite competition with moderate department stores like Kohl's and JCPenney."

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