A strong close made it a respectable December for Wal-Mart ( WMT). The nation's biggest retailer said in a recorded call Monday that it expects same-store sales growth of 3% for the month, up from the roughly 2% gain it estimated last weekend. Among other things, brisk gift card redemptions in the week after Christmas helped salvage the month. That's good news for retail bulls who have argued that certain macro calls on holiday sales growth were depressed by the exclusion of both gift cards and online sales. Wal-Mart shares rose 90 cents, or 1.7%, to $53.72 on Instinet. Among categories, food and general merchandise saw the best demand in the week ended Friday, while the strongest region was the Midwest.