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    Wal-Mart's March Sales Up 7.9 Percent

    Driven by food and other key categories, Wal-Mart's latest performance was a bright spot in otherwise gloomy monthly retail sales for many retailers.

    Total monthly sales at Bentonville, Ark.-based Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. were $36.973 billion -- a 7.9 percent jump from March 2007, the retailer said yesterday. In the Wal-Mart Stores U.S. segment, sales for the latest period were $23.213 billion, an increase of 5 percent from the same period last year.

    "Customers continued to turn to Wal-Mart for price leadership throughout the store, and they continued to see a better shopping experience," said Eduardo Castro-Wright, Wal-Mart Stores U.S. president and c.e.o., in a statement. "In addition, we benefited from better integration of merchandising, operations, and marketing."

    Wal-Mart's U.S. segment saw a comparable store sales gain of 0.9 percent during the five-week March period, driven by continued strength in the three largest business units: grocery, health and wellness, and entertainment, with solid Easter sales, the retailer said. Food, consumables, and dry grocery were strong during the period.

    Cold weather negatively affected the performance of apparel, and the 2007 Easter calendar change from April to March negatively impacted the March period, as well. In addition, with Easter coming much earlier this year, the traditional selling period for the holiday was shorter.

    The Sam's Club division achieved $4.287 billion in total sales, an increase of 3.2 percent compared to a year ago. Comparable store sales for the month fell 0.7 percent without fuel, but increased 2.1 percent with fuel sales factored in.

    Fresh food, dry grocery, and consumables led sales at Sam's Club during the period, with strong sell-through of Easter merchandise and favorable positions of seasonal inventories, according to the company.

    Looking ahead, Tom Schoewe, e.v.p. and c.f.o. noted, "Because of the Easter calendar change and its potential positive impact on the April sales period, we expect comparable store sales without fuel for the April four-week period in the United States to be between one and three percent. This guidance is slightly higher than our comparable sales guidance of the previous two months, which has been flat to two percent."

    The retailer also raised its guidance for earnings per share from continuing operations for the first quarter of fiscal year 2009 to a range of $0.74 to $0.76. This is an increase from the previous earnings guidance of $0.70 to $0.74 per share from continuing operations.

    The April four-week period runs from April 5 through May 2.

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