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Retailers may have been in the pink over the holiday weekend, but many of their stocks traded in the red Monday.

Analysts blamed the sector's weakness on a combination of high expectations and some results that belied the bullish headlines, most notably from

Wal-Mart

(WMT) - Get Walmart Inc. Report

.

"The numbers were good, but not spectacular," said Gary Farber, a partner with hedge fund Nightingale & Farber.

According to a number of reports, chain stores posted strong sales on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving and the traditional start of the holiday shopping season.

ShopperTrak

estimated that Black Friday sales totaled $7.2 billion, up 4.8% from the same day last year. Retailers posted an even better improvement on Saturday, ShopperTrak reported, with sales totaling $5.2 billion, a 6.1% improvement from the same day in 2002.

According to the National Retail Federation (NRF), nearly 72% of U.S. consumers shopped over the Thanksgiving weekend. But consumers are not as far along as they were at this time last year, suggesting that retailers could see an even greater surge in sales in December, the NRF said.

But the numbers were not entirely positive. Total sales growth over the weekend was 5.4%, according to ShopperTrak. That's slightly below the NRF's projection of 5.7% sales growth for the entire holiday season.

Perhaps most disturbing were the numbers

posted by Wal-Mart. The retailing behemoth reported Black Friday sales of $1.52 billion. That represented a single-day sales record for the company, with sales growing 6.3% over the same day last year.

But that growth rate was far slower than the 14.4% growth Wal-Mart reported on Black Friday last year. And taking into account the square-footage growth at the company over the last year, Wal-Mart's same-store sales likely were close to flat on Friday, said a buy-side analyst, who asked not to be named.

Same-store sales, which compare results at outlets open more than one year, are viewed as an important indicator of whether a company will achieve its earnings guidance. Assuming that Wal-Mart's comparable-store sales were less than 1% on Friday, they would have been far below the company's 3%-to-5% plan for November.

"

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Friday was not a terribly strong day for them," said the buy-side analyst, who is long Wal-Mart. "That I think is the thing that most people are looking at."

With about one hour to go in the trading day, Wal-Mart's stock was down $1.07, or 1.9%, to $54.57.

But Wal-Mart wasn't alone in seeing its stock fall. Despite the strong weekend sales numbers and the broader market's rally, shares of retailers such as

Tiffany's

(TIF) - Get Tiffany & Co. Report

,

Best Buy

(BBY) - Get Best Buy Co., Inc. Report

,

Lowe's

(LOW) - Get Lowe's Companies, Inc. Report

,

Nordstrom

(JWN) - Get Nordstrom, Inc. Report

and

Gap

(GPS) - Get Gap, Inc. Report

also traded off Monday.

Of course, many of these companies also have seen strong surges in their stocks this year. Gap, for instance, is up 38.5% year to date, while Nordstrom is up 85.3%.

Those gains imply that investors have pretty high expectations for how these companies will perform this holiday season. Farber, meanwhile, cautioned not to read too much into either the sales numbers or the stock movements. "One day doesn't make the market in these names," he said.

For most retailers, the holiday season is the most important time of the year, because it represents the lion's share of their sales and profits. Disappointing holiday sales

last year set the stage for poor results in the first two quarters of this year as retailers had to use profit-slashing markdowns to move merchandise.

Last year marked the second-straight disappointing holiday season for retailers. After those experiences, companies have been

notably cautious in their projections for the current period.

Data released over the weekend and on Monday suggest this holiday season may turn out better than retailers have forecast. Whether it proves good enough to justify additional stock-price appreciation remains to be seen.

The selloff on Monday simply may indicate that investors are now taking a wait-and-see approach, said Scott Rothbort, president of Lakeview Asset Management and a contributor to

Street Insight

, a sister Web site of

TheStreet.com

.

"I think some of it is expectations vs. reality," Rothbort said. "Retailers have gotten past the first hurdle. Now it's going to be, 'prove to me what you can do for me lately.'"