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    Wal-Mart Meets Estimates, Wall Street Exhales

    NEW YORK - Wal-Mart met securities analysts¿ expectations for December same-store sales yesterday, reporting a 3 percent rise in comps for the all-important holiday closer.

    NEW YORK - Wal-Mart met securities analysts’ expectations for December same-store sales yesterday, reporting a 3 percent rise in comps for the all-important holiday closer.

    Other retailers, including Costco, BJ’s, Target, and Family Dollar, also posted favorable results, indicating that consumers have continued to spend, especially on food.

    Wal-Mart said net sales in the five weeks ending Dec. 31 rose 13.4 percent from a year earlier, to $38.42 billion. Sales were strongest in the East and Southeast, while sales of food were more robust than sales of general merchandise, the company said. The average ticket and traffic was up for the month, Wal-Mart said.

    Sales of gift cards, which are not booked as sales until they are redeemed, were also up significantly.

    Sales at Wal-Mart’s namesake units rose 12.1 percent to $26.2 billion, while volume at its Sam's Club warehouse stores increased 7.8 percent to $4.4 billion.

    In a research report, Richard Hastings, retail economist for Variant Research Corp., noted that he remains cautious about near-term sales growth at Wal-Mart supercenters, where, he said, "grocery goods are rising as a percentage of total sales, diluting [Wal-Mart supercenters’] aggregate sales growth rates, while improving market share growth in the supermarket segment throughout most regions where they open supercenters."

    Wal-Mart said yesterday it expects same-store sales growth of 2 to 4 percent for January.

    Meanwhile, Sam’s competitors were logging their own gains. Costco Wholesale Corp. said comps in the five weeks ended Jan. 2 climbed 9 percent. BJ's Wholesale Club said December sales increased by 9.0 percent to $924.4 million, while on a comparable club basis they rose 5.6 percent, including a contribution from sales of gasoline of 1.4 percent and a 9 percent increase in sales of food. For the month of January, the company expects to report a comparable club sales increase in the range of 6 percent to 8 percent.

    For Target Corp., December retail sales from continuing operations (principally Target Stores) increased 11.3 percent to $7.548 billion, with same-store sales up 5.1 percent. But the retailer warned that fourth-quarter results would come in below the average estimate of analysts polled by Thomson First Call for earnings from continuing operations of 94 cents per share.

    Dollar store operator Family Dollar also fared well in December. Family Dollar Stores reported sales for the five-week period ended Jan. 1, of approximately $742.8 million, or 12.8 percent above sales for the similar period in the prior fiscal year.

    Comps increased 4 percent. The strongest sales growth was in basic consumables, such as paper products and food, and in certain hardlines seasonal categories, including electronics, toys and trim-a-tree, Family Dollar said.

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