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Buyers Beware? Investors Bid Up Retailers as Optimism Prevails

Several retailers moved sharply higher Tuesday, as Wal-Mart (WMT) and Gap (GPS) were among the top volume movers, and AnnTaylor (ANN) and Williams-Sonoma (WSM) were among the leading percentage gainers.

The market had a lot to digest, with Dow components Wal-Mart and Home Depot (HD) releasing their quarterly numbers along with the Census Bureau's July retail sales report.

Williams-Sonoma climbed $2.95, or 9.25%, to $34.85. Barnes & Noble (BKS) gained $4.30, or 12%, to $39.95. AnnTaylor rose $3.07, or 9.75%, to $34.55.

Earlier Tuesday, Wal-Mart said its second-quarter earnings were in line with Wall Street's projections, but the retailer lowered its guidance for the second half of the year. Home Depot posted quarterly income of 39 cents a share, beating analysts' estimates by 2 cents.

The Census Bureau's retail sales data for July showed that sales were unchanged from June, beating the 0.2% decline expected by economists polled by Reuters.

"I think the idea that retailers are reporting second-quarter numbers and not reducing second-half guidance by much is causing some to feel that while the going will still be tough, a bottom may have been made," Todd Slater, an analyst at Lazard Freres, said of today's moves. Slater speculated that investors perceiving bargains or covering short positions may have contributed to the run-up. "The consumer is slow, but they haven't completely died," he said. "They're still out there shopping. I think the market is focused on a possible recovery in the first half 2002. I think were looking six months out at strong consumer sentiment."

Mike Porter, a retail analyst with Morningstar, didn't seem worried about Wal-Mart's warning before the bell. "It didn't sound like gloom and doom for the sector," he said. However, he said the coming weeks will be telling for the retailers, as a number of apparel sellers report their numbers and provide insight into how the back-to-school season is shaping up.

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