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NEW YORK CITY–June retail sales were stronger than expected, as warm weather took hold and Federal stimulus checks made their way through the system – particularly at Wal-Mart, which posted a 6.4% gain over last year.

Retail chain comparable-store sales rose 4.3% year over year, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers Retail Chain Store Index. Wal-Mart’s unexpectedly strong showing (a 5.8% increase when Sam’s Club fuel sales are excluded) itself added 2.4 percentage points to the industry gain, ICSC said.

“The tally less Wal-Mart suggested narrow breadth to the June gain,” said Michael P. Niemira, ICSC vice president, chief economist and director of research. “But pockets of strength continued, especially in wholesale clubs.”

Value-oriented retailers such as discounters, wholesale clubs and dollar stores performed well, while apparel remains weak. Family Dollar reported an 8% comp increase and Target a 0.4% rise, while BJ’s Wholesale sales rose 16.5% and Costco 9%. Department stores however, continued on the downward trend. Dillard’s posted a 5% comp drop, JCPenney a 2.4% decline and Nordstrom an 18.6% decrease. Kohl’s showed a 2.3% increase and TJX Cos. a 5% rise.

Wal-Mart’s strongest sales were in grocery, health and wellness, and flat-panel televisions, as well as weather-driven increases in seasonal apparel.

“Wal-Mart continues to see benefit to its business from tax rebates, though the impacts are very uneven by retailer throughout the industry,” Niemira said.

With back-to-school and fall merchandise arriving later this month, ICSC predicts a July sales increase of 2 to 3%.

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