November 28, 2004

Wal-Mart Lowers Expected Sales Gains

BENTONVILLE, Ark. - Weaker-than-expected holiday shopping forced Wal-Mart Stores Inc. on Saturday to cut its projected sales increase for November by more than half, an ominous announcement for retailers as their busiest time of year begins.

The world's largest retailer estimated that the month's sales at U.S. stores open at least a year would be 0.7 percent higher than last November, well below the 2-to-4 percent range that the company had said it expected last week.

The new projection was based on four weeks' worth of sales, from Oct. 30 through Friday, the company said in a statement on its Web site.

"Sales fell below plan this past week, which impacted the results of our November forecast," the statement said. "Keep in mind that this past week was the largest week of the reporting period."

According to Wal-Mart, sales were strongest in the categories of bedding, food, and pet supplies.

"For the day after Thanksgiving, strength in blitz items included digital cameras, the TV-DVD combo, learning toys and video games," the company said.

Sales for the week were strongest in the Southeast and the West, according to the statement.

The statement did not include specific sales figures, which are to be released Thursday.

The National Retail Federation projects that total sales, after restaurant and auto sales are excluded, will increase 4.5 percent for the November-December period. That would be less than the 5.1 percent gain of a year earlier.