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Wal-Mart Sales Up, Department Stores Down

NEW YORK - Wal-Mart Stores Inc. said on Monday that sales at stores open at least a year were tracking 5 percent to 7 percent higher in the week ended April 11, while department stores said they are seeing a decline, even in a month boosted by the late Easter.

Warmer weather helped spur sales, said Bentonville, Ark.-based Wal-Mart. The release of a new Harry Potter video and DVD was also a plus late in the week. The strongest categories for the week included fabrics, crafts, boys clothes, toys, electronics and office supplies, Wal-Mart added.

Same-store sales have been strongest among the discount retailers, as money-conscious consumers spend more carefully. Department stores have been struggling to compete with discount chains, using sales and promotions to draw shoppers.

Last week, many retailers reported weak March same-store sales, blaming the U.S. war with Iraq, cold weather, job losses and a calendar shift. The Easter holiday, which affects the marketing cycles for clothes, occurred in March last year but comes in April this year, and will likely help April sales.

Economists are expecting a short-lived boost in consumer spending from the resolution of the war with Iraq but don't see a real rebound for at least several months.

"Before the war, anticipation and uncertainty about the war was resulting in a hit to consumer confidence and spending, and biz confidence and spending," said Frank Badillo, senior economist with Retail Forward. "With the war nearing resolution, I'd expect some boost in confidence that would provide a momentary bounceback."
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