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    Retail Humbug

    Holiday sales slump stirring new fears over economy.

    WASHINGTON -- When Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the nation's largest retailer, said Thursday that holiday sales were slower than expected, retailers and economists cast a familiar fret that has underscored a lagging economy.

    In short, this year's Christmas season is shaping up to be short, nasty and relatively brutish.

    Already facing a certain obstacle with just 26 days between Thanksgiving and Christmas -- the fewest days possible ? retailers said sales were even worse than initially predicted. "This shows the economy is a dominant force holding back sales. Now everybody is hurting," Michael P. Niemira, analyst at Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi, told The Wall Street Journal.

    Wal-Mart, noting holiday sales were slower than expected, said it now expects sales at stores open at least a year to be up only 2 to 3 percent in the month ending Jan. 3; previously it had forecast a 3 to 5 percent spike.
    Wal-Mart's shortfall is significant: Not only does the discount behemoth reach consumers from coast to coast, its relatively low prices would seem to attract shoppers during tough economic times, The Journal said.

    Among other major retailers, Federated Department Stores Inc., operator of Macy's and Bloomingdale's, earlier this week lowered its same-store sales expectations; and Tweeter Home Entertainment Inc. and Ultimate Electronics Inc., both which had hoped for flat same-store sales, said comparable sales would likely fall by double digits.

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