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reported Monday that February same-store sales are tracking toward the high end of its previously announced guidance, and said it is optimistic thanks to strong spring apparel sales so far.

Based on results through Feb. 21, same-store sales for the month are tracking near the high end of its 3% to 5% range, the company said in a recorded call.

Food, apparel, outerwear and health and beauty products were the strongest categories in the week ended Feb. 21. The Northeast and mid-Atlantic were the company's strongest regions.

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While the company said apparel unit counts were below those of the same time last year, it was encouraged by early spring apparel sales.

Total traffic and average tickets were also positive in the week and traffic made up more than two-thirds of the comparable-store sales increase. In the same period last year, a snow storm had cut down traffic.

The company said it will report sales for the four weeks ended Feb. 27 on Thursday, March 4. Wal-Mart posted a 2.6% increase in same-store sales in Feb. 2003 while total net sales rose 9.2% to $18.8 billion.

Last week the company reported

in-line fourth-quarter earning and said it sees first quarter and full-year EPS in-line to above analysts' forecasts.

Shares of Bentonville, Ark.-based Wal-Mart were recently up 7 cents, or 0.1%, at $59.50, slightly below their 52-week high of $60.20 reached on Sept. 4.