Before the open this morning, Wal-Mart Stores (NYSE: WMT) joined its brethren in officially announcing its December sales results. The mega-retailer saw same-store sales during the previous month increase 1.6 percent, besting the consensus estimate for a sales increase of one percent.
Total sales during the five-week period from the last week of November to the week ending December 29 were up roughly 8.8 percent to $44 billion.
The firm reported that strong sales of electronics, groceries, and pharmacy items led to better-than-expected same-store sales in December. However, apparel sales, which are usually a top performer during the holidays, were soft, as were sales of home accessories. Furthermore, the company stated that warmer-than-normal temperatures in most of the U.S. also contributed to a slow-down in sales of some winter seasonal items.
Looking ahead to January, Wal-Mart expects a same-store sales increase of one percent to two percent. Furthermore, the firm backed its operating earnings targets of 88 cents to 92 cents per share for the fourth quarter and $2.85 to $2.89 per share for the fiscal year.
Elsewhere, Wal-Mart's U.K. division Asda Group Ltd. reported that December sales were ahead of expectations, with a record trading day on December 22. The firm stated that in the seven days before Christmas it served 20 million customers, which was over one million more than in 2005.
In addition, the number of Asda stores taking more than GBP3 million in sales in the week leading up to Christmas was up 50 percent from a year ago.
From a sentiment perspective, options players are growing more optimistic toward the giant retailer. The stock's Schaeffer's put/call open interest ratio has steadily declined from its December 26 reading of 0.76 to its current perch of 0.67, which is now lower than 68 percent of those taken during the past year. This steady decline indicates that options speculators have added calls positions at a faster pace than puts among near-term options.