An unflinching outlook from

Wal-Mart

(WMT) - Get Report

helped make retail one of the market's few green pastures on Monday.

The Bentonville behemoth said before the bell that same-store sales were trending in line with existing guidance through the first week in May, putting the country's biggest retailer on track to deliver same-store sales growth of 4% to 6% for the month. Wal-Mart, along with rivals

Target

(TGT) - Get Report

and

Kohl's

(KSS) - Get Report

, are all scheduled to report earnings Thursday.

"Their business is holding up despite what people are saying," said Ulysses Yannas, an analyst at Buckman Buckman & Reid.

The outlook made Wal-Mart the biggest percentage gainer on the

Dow

by far, as the stock closed up $1.32, or 2.5%, to $55.22. Kohl's jumped 50 cents, or 1.2%, to $42.18, while Target gained 29 cents, or 0.6%, to $43.55. On a day when the major averages were all down better than 1%, the

Retail HOLDRs

(RTH) - Get Report

basked added about 1%.

The performance reflects an appetite among investors for safety, said Mark Miller, an analyst with William Blair.

"Over the last year the stocks that have done best are those that have been lower quality, more cyclical and in many case smaller caps, but in a period of rising interest rates, the stocks that do best are those of higher quality, with strong balance sheets and have more constant growth profiles," Miller said, adding that the imminence of Wal-Mart's earnings was coaxing out hopeful buyers.

"The takeaway from Wal-Mart is going to be positive because the company's earnings growth will accelerate though the year," said Miller. "The company's strong decision to price appropriately, given the savings from imports, can help the profit trend."

Retail also provides relative insulation from rising rates, Yannas said.

"Why? With your credit card balance, the interest rate never dropped

when the Fed lowered rates, so why should it go up now?" he said. That could keep consumers spending.

In its report Monday, Wal-Mart said its strongest sales categories for the week ended May 7 were electronics, food, paper goods, pet supplies and toys. The East and West were the strongest regions for the week. Wal-Mart said traffic and average ticket were positive; each made up half of the same-store sales increase.

Analysts are expecting earnings of 49 cents a share when it reports Thursday, up from 42 cents a share in the year-earlier period.

Last week, the company reported

mixed same-store sales results in April, posting a 4.4% increase, slightly missing the First Call consensus for a 4.5% rise. In its Sam's Club unit, the company had an 8.3% increase, which beat estimates, while its Wal-Mart stores had a 3.6% increase, missing estimates.