Sales at three top retailers met modest targets in the first couple weeks of July.

At Bentonville, Ark.-based

Wal-Mart

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, the nation's largest retailer, same-store sales, which gauge activity in shops open at least a year, were on plan to meet the company's goal of a 3% to 5% increase in July. However, at the company's

Sam's Club

division, sales were slightly below plan.

Shares were up 40 cents at $53.30.

Meanwhile,

J.C. Penney

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, based in Plano, Texas, continued to see strong sales in its core department stores: Sales exceeded expectations, which had them flat to slightly up, the company said. July's strong numbers continue the success the company had in June, when sales

rose more than anticipated. Sales at Penney's catalog division were on plan for a decrease in the mid-20% range, while sales at drugstore chain

Eckerd

were on plan for a high-single-digit increase.

Shares traded up 54 cents to $27.93.

At Troy, Mich.-based

Kmart

(KM)

, the other major retailer that reports sales on a weekly basis, sales were on track to show up to a 2% jump in July. Shares lately were off 4 cents to $11.32.

The bulk of the nation's retailers report monthly same-store sales on the first Thursday of each month. Those figures are considered a key indicator of the direction of the consumer economy. In recent months sales have lagged, diminishing hopes for a rebound in consumer spending in the second half of the year. Now, most economists and retail analysts say the best-case scenario is for a rebound by the fourth quarter -- yet some observers predict retail sales could remain lackluster into next year.