Wal-Mart leads discount category in February with 5.1% increase

New York City Americans remained focused on groceries and other necessities in February, resulting in another month of sales declines for many merchants. But the results were not as steep as Wall Street expected.

Wal-Mart Stores led the discount store category. The chain’s February same-store sales jumped 5.1%, excluding fuel sales. Analysts surveyed by Thomson Reuters, on average, expected a rise of 2.4%.

The company said both traffic and the average amount spent per transaction rose in February.

"We believe falling gas prices significantly boosted household disposable income in February and therefore allowed for both more trips and more spending towards discretionary categories," vice chairman Eduardo Castro-Wright said in a statement.

Target Corp.'s same-store sales declined 4.1%, less than the 4.8% drop that Wall Street expected. The retailer said groceries and health products were the biggest sellers while apparel and home products were weaker. The average amount shoppers spent per trip fell during the month.

In other results:

Duckwall-ALCO Stores said Thursday its same-store sales rose 9.4% in February.

TJX Cos. said sales were flat from a year ago -- better than the 1.8% drop expected.

Stein Mart said its same-store sales dropped 12.2% in February, a bigger decline than Wall Street expected.

Analysts pointed out that February's figures, boosted by retailers’ tight control of their inventory, are unlikely to mark the beginning of a recovery. Consumers are still grappling with massive job cuts, tight credit and plummeting stock portfolios.

The retail sales reports came as the Labor Department said that the number of new jobless claims and the total number of people receiving unemployment benefits both dropped unexpectedly last week, although though they remain high. Economists surveyed by Thomson/IFR expect data out Friday to show that unemployment rose to 7.9% in February from 7.6% in January as companies kept slashing jobs.

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