The new head of Wal-Mart ( WMT) said that the U.S. economy is still under considerable stress and that a recovery may not come as fast as government officials are indicating.

In a televised interview, Wal-Mart CEO Mike Duke said that an end to the economic downturn doesn't appear to be coming any time soon. "There's still a lot of stress," Duke said Wednesday on NBC's "Today Show."

"It's just not a 'V' recession where we will just bounce out and come back," Duke said during the interview. "This is one that's going to take a sustained change in the way that families live and their focus."

Formerly the vice chairman of Wal-Mart's international division, Duke was tapped in late November to succeed Lee Scott as Wal-Mart's president and chief executive.

Duke's comments come one day after the Commerce Department said retail sales fell 1.1% in March, halting a two-month winning streak that had led some to believe the tough environment for consumer spending was over.

The weak retail sales report came as no surprise for some, though, as many retailers reported a decline in same-store sales for March. Wal-Mart said total U.S. same-store sales rose 1.4% last month, excluding the impact of fuel sales, although expectations were for an increase more on the order of 3%.

Wal-Mart's chief rival Target ( TGT) was also hit hard, reporting a 6.3% decline in comparable-store sales last month.

In addition, several apparel shops and department stores reported a decline in same-store sales last month. Abercrombie & Fitch ( ANF) saw a 34% drop last month, sales were down 23.6% at Saks ( SKS), American Eagle Outfitters ( AEO) had a 16% drop, Nordstrom ( JWN) recorded a 13.5% dip, and Macy's ( M) said sales were down 9.2% in March.

Duke's comments are also in contrast to remarks made Tuesday by Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, who told a group in Atlanta, Ga., that recent economic data is encouraging and could signal a bottoming in the decline of economic activity.

"Recently we have seen tentative signs that the sharp decline in economic activity may be slowing, for example, in data on home sales, homebuilding, and consumer spending, including sales of new motor vehicles," Bernanke said in prepared remarks. "A leveling out of economic activity is the first step toward recovery."

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