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Slack Wal-Mart sales fuel concerns

NEW YORK -- Tepid December sales at Wal-Mart Stores Inc. made Wall Street uneasy yesterday, but many analysts don't expect disappointing results from other retailers. Most merchants are expected to meet their modest holiday expectations.

''Clearly, there are some overtones for the industry, but I think largely Wal-Mart has some of its own issues," said Bob Buchanan at St. Louis-based A.G. Edwards." I think they are still very sloppy with store-level execution."

Michael P. Niemira, chief economist at the International Council of Shopping Centers, agreed. He said Wal-Mart is still ''behind the curve," despite its efforts in improving merchandise offerings.

Nonetheless, given Wal-Mart's size and reach, its estimated December same-store sales increase of 2.2 percent will hurt the overall industry's sales for the month. Wal-Mart's forecast is based on stores open at least a year.

Merchants report December results tomorrow.

Wal-Mart's news sent many retail stocks sliding. In afternoon trading, Wal-Mart was off 1.90 percent, or 89 cents, at $45.91. Target Corp., slipped 1.56 percent, or 86 cents, to $54.11. Kohl's Corp. shares fell 2.55 percent, or $1.24 to $47.36.

Because of Wal-Mart's disappointing December sales, ''the overall holiday picture doesn't seem as bright as it did last week," said Niemira. He now expects the International Council of Shopping Centers-UBS December same-store sales tally for the 70 stores it tracks to be up 3 percent, instead of 3.5 percent.

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