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    Wal-Mart's April Sales Better than Expected

    Sales were higher in food, dry grocery, and consumables, while the allergy season helped drive sales of prescription and over-the-counter medications.

    Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. said yesterday that its U.S. comparable store sales in April increased 3.2 percent, which was better than the retailer had expected. However, executives admitted their concerns about the economy, including whether consumers will use their economic stimulus checks to purchase food and other items at Wal-Mart stores.

    Comparable store sales during the four-week April period were strong in grocery, health and wellness, and entertainment, the company said. Sales were higher in food, dry grocery, and consumables, while the allergy season helped drive sales of prescription and over-the-counter medications.

    Earlier this week, Wal-Mart announced an expansion of its prescription medication program, which now includes 90-day prescriptions for $10 on 350 medications, low prices on additional women's health medications, and a $4 price on more than 1,000 over-the-counter medications.

    Same-store sales rose 2.6 percent at namesake Wal-Mart stores and 6.6 percent at Sam's Club, excluding fuel. Sam's Club had sales strengths in dry grocery and consumables.

    Net sales at namesake Wal-Mart stores were $17.960 billion, a 6.5 percent jump compared to the same period last year.

    "We continued to have solid execution in the stores at a time when customers rely on Wal-Mart for price leadership and exceptional value on everything," said Eduardo Castro-Wright, Wal-Mart Stores U.S. president and c.e.o., in a statement. "The economy continues to get tougher, and the 'paycheck cycle' is more pronounced for customers than in past months. As money gets tighter for them toward the end of the month, sales drop more than we have seen in the past."

    Wal-Mart announced last week that it will cash economic stimulus checks at no charge and will continue to offer its customers more rollbacks and additional price savings. Sam's Club also is cashing economic stimulus checks at no charge as a service to members.

    "Wal-Mart has great prices, so customers can count on us to make their money go further," said Castro-Wright. "This early in the process, it's difficult to accurately forecast what impact the stimulus checks will have on consumer spending."

    Looking ahead, the company forecasts U.S. comparable store sales, excluding fuel, for the May four-week period to be between flat and two percent.

    In other Wal-Mart news, Wal-Mart Canada is reportedly gearing up for a major expansion over the next few years, including 25 to 27 real estate projects before the end of January 2009, which marks the end of its current fiscal year. The retailer plans to build new supercenters, as well as expand or relocate some existing stores.

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