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Sales at Wal-Mart Rise 1.8%

The retailer's growth slows despite an increase in consumer confidence and falling pump prices.

October 02, 2006|From Bloomberg News

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. said September's same-store sales in the U.S. rose about 1.8%, the smallest gain since June, when sales increased 1.2%.

The retailer had forecast an increase of 1% to 3%. The Bentonville, Ark.-based retailer provided the preliminary sales figure in a recorded telephone call Saturday. The year-earlier month's results were affected by hurricanes Katrina and Rita, Wal-Mart said.

Wal-Mart's growth slowed even as consumer confidence rose to a five-month high and the price of gasoline dropped to its lowest point since March. Sales may be suffering as the company cuts inventory and renovates more than half its U.S. Wal-Mart stores, said analyst Keri Spanbauer.

"They have some out-of-stock issues," said Spanbauer, who helps Minneapolis-based Thrivent Investment Management manage $67.5 billion, including Wal-Mart shares. "They're running really lean. In the short run, they may run into some bumps in the road."

The retail outlook is positive, Spanbauer said, with cool weather and falling gasoline prices boosting spending. The International Council of Shopping Centers, a New York trade group, this week boosted its September same-store sales forecast to a gain of at least 4% from 3.5%.

At Wal-Mart, the completion of renovations and wider availability of its own Metro 7 and George ME clothing lines helped boost sales, Oppenheimer & Co. analyst Bernard Sosnick wrote in a Sept. 14 report. Sosnick rates the shares "buy."

Target Corp., the second-largest discount chain, said Sept. 18 that its same-store sales for the month probably would rise about 5%. It initially forecast a gain of 3% to 5%. Most retailers will report their September sales results Thursday.

Shares of Wal-Mart fell 49 cents Friday to $49.32.

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