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    Wal-Mart Shares Boosted by Analyst Upgrade

    BENTONVILLE, Ark. -- Shares of Wal-Mart Stores were up 2.96 percent yesterday, closing at $49.45, after Banc of America Securities upgraded the retailer based on its new merchandising strategy coupled with its outlook of improved margins from an accelerated sourcing program.

    BENTONVILLE, Ark. -- Shares of Wal-Mart Stores were up 2.96 percent yesterday, closing at $49.45, after Banc of America Securities upgraded the retailer based on its new merchandising strategy coupled with its outlook of improved margins from an accelerated sourcing program.

    "We believe that WMT can work in both an offensive and defensive environment," said analyst David Strasser in a note to clients. "In an improving economy, new merchandising strategies and the improved inventory position will drive accelerating comps and earnings, resulting in multiple expansion."

    Strasser cited consumers' warm response to the Wal-Mart's private label Metro 7 apparel line, as well as its good performance in consumer electronics.

    Risks for Wal-Mart include the possibility of even higher energy prices.

    In other Wal-Mart news, a federal judge has set a sentencing hearing Aug. 11 for Thomas Coughlin, the former No. 2 executive at Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the Associated Press reports. Coughlin pleaded guilty in January to fraud and tax charges.

    Coughlin faces a maximum of 28 years in prison after pleading guilty to five counts of wire fraud and one count of filing a false tax return. He also could be fined $1.35 million.

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