Byline: Valerie Seckler

NEW YORK — Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is expected to report this morning that its same-store sales grew about 5 percent in September, topping the 3 percent gain analysts estimated will be the industry’s average for the month.
Although most of the nation’s major retailers will report September sales results Thursday, Wal-Mart will release its figures today as management meets with retail analysts at the firm’s Bentonville, Ark., headquarters, according to a company spokesman. Wal-Mart will be updating Wall Street on its plans.
Analyst Rick Church of Smith Barney Inc. estimated Monday that Wal-Mart Stores will register comparable-store gains of 4 to 5 percent, versus a 5.6 percent increase in September 1996. Church sees comps advancing 5 to 6 percent at the Wal-Mart discount stores and supercenters, and adding 1 to 3 percent at Sam’s Clubs.
Smith Barney’s research also indicates that Wal-Mart’s international division logged another strong month in September.
Scott Johnson, Church’s research associate, and Alejandro Daniel Lerner, a Smith Barney analyst who keeps tabs on Wal-Mart’s Cifra unit in Mexico, will represent Smith Barney in Bentonville.
The Smith Barney estimates are slightly softer than Wal-Mart’s planned increases of 5 to 6 percent overall; 5 to 7 percent at the discount stores and supercenters, and 1 to 3 percent at Sam’s.
An overall comp-store upswing of 6 percent at Wal-Mart for September is anticipated by Robert Buchanan, analyst at NatWest Securities, who was en route to Bentonville Monday.
“I think management will spend some time talking about how they are going to be razor-sharp on pricing,” Buchanan said. “It’s a price game, and the bone goes to the lowest-price operator, all things being equal.
“Sharp prices also raise the pressure on competitors — primarily Kmart, and Target in some categories — who have lower sales and higher costs per square foot.”
Wal-Mart stock closed at 36 7/8, down 1/8, on the New York Stock Exchange Monday. It remains on Smith Barney’s list of long-term favorite retail issues, along with Federated, Kohl’s, Dayton Hudson and Proffitt’s.

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