Sales at three of the nation's best-known retailers are tracking in line with modest expectations for March, according to the latest weekly sales figures.

For the third week of March, sales at

Wal-Mart

(WMT) - Get Report

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, the nation's largest retailer, were slightly below plan, although sales are tracking in line with estimates of a 3% to 5% increase in comparable store sales for the entire month. Comparable-store sales, which measure activity in shops open at least a year, are a key figure for gauging the health of the retail sector. The Bentonville, Ark.-based company said sales were strongest in the West and Northeast, and that electronics sales were particularly robust. Shares recently traded off 8 cents at $46.85.

Meanwhile, Plano, Texas-based

J.C. Penney

(JCP) - Get Report

said department store sales for the week were slightly above projections for a decrease in the low single digits on a percentage basis. Catalog sales were in line with expectations of a low-single-digit decrease, while drugstore sales were on plan for a high-single-digit increase. Shares recently traded up 10 cents at $16.50.

Sales figures at

Kmart

(KM)

, the other top retailer that releases weekly sales figures, were on plan for a low-single-digit percentage increase, driven by higher-than-usual clearance sales. Kmart shares were up 3 cents at $8.76.

Most of the nation's retailers report monthly sales on the first Thursday of each month; they are a key barometer of the health of the consumer sector.

February's data revealed a nervous American shopper and an economy -- two-thirds of which is comprised of consumer spending -- in the throes of a slowdown.