Wal-Mart: Holiday Shopping Demand Promising

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (WMT) said Monday its October sales at U.S. stores open at least a year were on pace to meet its growth forecast, and early indications of holiday shopping (search) demand looked promising.

On a recorded update covering sales through Oct. 10, Wal-Mart said the first week in the October sales period started strong, but sales slowed toward the end of last week as the weather warmed in the U.S. East and Midwest, curbing demand for fall merchandise.

Still, it remained on pace to meet its forecast for a 3 percent to 5 percent sales increase at U.S. stores open at least a year, a retail measure known as same-store sales.

Wal-Mart said Halloween sales (search) were on track so far, but noted that it was still early in the selling season. The retailer also said its holiday season toy aisles were set, and initial sales were good.

Wal-Mart has been putting pressure on traditional toy retailers with its offering of low-priced toys, which it expands during the all-important holiday shopping season.

Wal-Mart, the world's biggest company by revenue, said last week that September's sales were stronger than expected because of unseasonably cool weather that drove demand for coats and other cold-weather gear. However, the retailer cautioned that the early arrival of cooler weather would likely siphon off some demand from October.

Last year, Wal-Mart recorded a 3.7 percent increase in October same-store sales, at the high end of its modest forecast for a 2 percent to 4 percent advance.

Shares of Wal-Mart were up 39 cents, or 0.7 percent, at $58.81, in early New York Stock Exchange trading.

The best-selling categories last week included men's clothing, electronics, toys, sporting goods, paint, pharmaceuticals and food.

Wal-Mart's sales in the current third quarter, which ends in October, have so far proved better than last year's as government tax credits and an improving stock market helped lift consumer spending.

However, the retailer said it has not raised its earnings forecast, in part because heavier-than-expected markdowns trimmed profits. Wal-Mart is expected to report its third-quarter earnings next month.