It ain't just


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Shares of the world's largest retailer caught fire Tuesday after it reported that same-store sales in June would likely beat its previous estimates. It projected a year-over-year increase of 4.5%, above its estimated range of 2% to 4%. The market responded, bidding its stock up $1.56, or 3.2%, to $49.84.

But with $291 billion in annual sales, Wal-Mart is not an island. The S&P Retail Index also rose 1.8% on the news, and analysts began raising estimates, expecting a strong round of sales reports from retail chains Thursday.

"The picture looks pretty good for the month of June," said Michael Niemera, chief economist and director of research with the International Council of Shopping Centers. "We're getting a lot of good economic news about the consumer and I think Thursday's sales reports will probably echo that sentiment."

Based on estimates for roughly 90 national retail chains, the ICSC predicted the average retailer posted a year-over-year gain of 4.5% in same-store sales in June (sales at stores open for at least one year). That compares to May's anemic increase of 2.5%, and the 3% jump recorded for retailers in June 2004.

Meanwhile, Niemera said he wouldn't be surprised to see an increase close to 5% when the majority of retailers report their monthly numbers on Thursday.

Aside from Wal-Mart's news, which suggests shoppers were not unduly affected by rising gasoline prices in June, Wall Street's view on consumer spending was buoyed by improvements in measures of consumer attitudes.

The University of Michigan said last Friday that its consumer sentiment index climbed to 96 in June, beating its preliminary reading for the month of 94.8 and widening its gain from May's reading of 86.9. Economists expected the final figure to be revised lower.

Before that, the Conference Board said its consumer confidence index beat expectations in June, rising to 105.8 from May's reading of 103.1.

"Consumers appear to be getting more confidence in their employment situation," Niemera said. "Perhaps we'll see this reflected in the employment figures for June."

Economists expect the government to report Friday that the economy added 194,000 nonfarm payrolls in June, up from a disappointing 78,000 recorded for May. The unemployment rate is expected to hold steady at an impressive 5.1%.

Meanwhile, Wal-Mart's chief competitor,


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, added $1.58, or 2.9%, to $56.14 on Tuesday as analysts expressed optimism about its performance.

Best Buy

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added $1.97, or 2.9%, to $70.79;

Home Depot

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rose 58 cents, or 1.5%, to $40.11;


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gained 49 cents, or 1.1%, to $45.37; and

J.C. Penney

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was up $1, or 1.9%, to $54.11.

Bernard Sands retail analyst Richard Hastings said all those companies probably performed well in June, but also warned investors to expect some weak spots. For instance,

Ann Taylor


posted double-digit comps in June of last year, and its business has deteriorated since then.

"There's no way they can come anywhere close to matching that performance this time around," Hastings said. "



will also have trouble with last year's comparisons."

Meanwhile, several analysts issued optimistic outlooks on specialty apparel retailers, like





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Wet Seal


Sanders Morris Harris analyst Liz Pierce said Bebe will likely be an outperformer with same-store sales in the "mid-20s range or higher." She also said Wet Seal looked poised to continue its impressive sales turnaround. Shares of bebe closed up 98 cents, or 4.6%, to $28.25; but Wet Seal was down 12 cents, or 1.8%, to $6.66.

Other specialty retailers also were on the rise. Shares of

American Eagle

( AEOS) rose $1.19, or 3.8%, to $32.29;

Pacific Sunwear


added 49 cents, or 2.1%, to $23.55; and



was up $1.36, or 4%, to $35.97.

Ryan Beck & Co. analyst Margaret Whitfield pointed out that

Christopher & Banks

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, a midpriced women's apparel chain, already posted a strong 8% jump in same-store sales for the month. She's expecting other apparel chains, like

Jos. A. Banks



Claire's Stores

( CLE),


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and Chico's to follow suit.

"We saw a big disparity between retail stores in the North and South in May because the weather was so bad that month," Whitfield said. "With the warm weather arriving in June, it was greeted by some pent-up demand from consumers. People are feeling pretty good about the job outlook, and while gas may cost a little more, it doesn't seem to have deterred consumers from shopping. I expect to raise some of my earnings estimates and price targets soon in this group."