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Wal-Mart Sees January Same-Store Sales Up 2.2%

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Wal-Mart Stores estimated on Saturday that January sales rose a stronger-than-expected 2.2% at its U.S. stores open at least a year, as shoppers redeemed their holiday gift cards.

The world's biggest retailer had forecast U.S. January same-store stores to rise between 1% to 2%, compared with a year ago when its January same-store sales increased 4.7%.

Wall Street is keeping a close eye on January sales figures to see if customers returned to stores after the holiday shopping season to redeem their gift cards.

Retailers, who can only book revenue after the gift cards are used, count on customers to spend more once they walk into their stores.

"Our stores and marketing were well positioned for traffic in the days after Christmas, as shoppers began to come in to spend their gift cards," said Eduardo Castro-Wright, head of Wal-Mart U.S. stores division, after the company reported its December sales results last month.

Wal-Mart's January monthly sales figures include the last two days of December.

Wall Street is also watching to see if January's chilly temperatures helped spur sales of seasonal merchandise after December's above-average temperatures squashed sales of cold-weather items, leaving many retailers to report lackluster December sales results.

For its part, Wal-Mart is working to revive sales at its U.S. stores, which it says have been hurt by store remodeling projects that disrupted shoppers, and an effort to stock its stores with trendy merchandise, like skinny jeans, that was met with mixed results.

In December, its sales at its U.S. stores open at least a year rose 1.6%, while in November, they declined 0.1%.

Wal-Mart's estimate of its January same-store sales marks the last time the company will provide a monthly sales estimate on the Saturday after the close of its sales reporting period. Instead, Wal-Mart will issue a news release on the Thursday following each retail sales period with its final sales figures.

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