Wal-Mart Takes Center Stage Amid Sales Concerns

It’s going to be a big week for Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT). The retail giant will report earnings on Thursday, unofficially marking the end of earnings season, and the stakes are high. Wal-Mart closed Friday off 2.15 percent, finishing the week down over 2 percent after news circulated that sales have slowed significantly over the past few weeks.

A series of emails leaked to Bloomberg on Friday revealed that February sales to date have been a “total disaster,” according to Jeff Murray, Wal-Mart’s vice president of finance and logistics. “Where are all the customers?” Murray asked in the leaked emails. “Where’s their money?”

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At a glance, the answers to Murray’s questions are: the customers are at home, and their money went to the government. That is, consumers have closed their wallets and tightened their financial belts in the wake of the expiration of the payroll tax holiday. The result could mean decreased sales at not just Wal-Mart, but other major retailers like Costco (NASDAQ:COST) and Target (NYSE:TGT)…

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