Four major retailers stretching from mass to class took a cautious stance about the outlook for the second quarter, and it was enough to send retail stocks into a swoon.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Saks Inc., Abercrombie & Fitch Co. and The TJX Cos. Inc. on Tuesday all delivered bottom-line results in the first quarter that were not only better than the depressed ones of a year ago but also ahead of Wall Street estimates. However, all hedged their bets in some fashion, whether through forward-looking guidance that disappointed Wall Street, as with Wal-Mart and TJX, or with a deceleration of strategy for Europe, as evidenced by A&F’s stringent margin standards for expansion on the Continent, itself the focus of considerable economic turmoil in recent months.

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