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Wal-Mart Ups Buyback Ante

The retail giant announces a $7 billion buyback program, replacing the existing $5 billion plan.

Wal-Mart (WMT) is bulking up its buyback program.

The board of directors for the leading retailer approved a new plan allowing the company to spend up to $7 billion on stock repurchases, Wal-Mart announced Monday evening. The plan replaces a previous program that allowed the company to spend up to $5 billion on stock buybacks.

In the first nine months of the company's 2003 fiscal year, Wal-Mart spent $3.1 billion to repurchase 56.2 million of its shares. The company currently has about 4.37 billion shares outstanding.

Company directors reset the previous stock buyback plan several times to the $5 billion level. As of the end of October, the company had about $2.8 billion left that it could spend on repurchases under its previous authorizations.

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Wal-Mart's stock rose following its announcement, which came after the close of regular trading. In after-hours trading, the company's shares were at $52.43, up 31 cents, or 0.6%, from their regular session close.