updated 1/24/2005 8:48:58 AM ET 2005-01-24T13:48:58

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. predicts January sales for its U.S. stores will increase 2 percent to 4 percent compared to January 2004.

The world's largest retailer provided its estimate for same-store sales — stores open for at least a year — for the four-weeks ending Friday in its weekly sales update.

Food sales were doing better than general merchandise and East Coast stores were proving to be the strongest performers, the company said Saturday in a recorded telephone message. The forecast was released before a strong winter storm pummeled the Northeast and Rust Belt.

"Keep in mind that the Super Bowl is one week later this year and pre-Super Bowl sales fall out of the reporting period," the company said. The Super Bowl is Feb. 6; last year it took place Feb. 1.

Also, the company said, Sam's Club sales will be negatively affected because the New Year holiday falls in the January reporting period. Jan. 1 fell on a Saturday and Sam's Clubs were closed. Last year, the New Year holiday was reflected in the December reporting period.

In December, Wal-Mart stepped up discounting after a slow start in the Christmas holiday season and posted a 3 percent rise in same-store sales for that month. The discounter's results were particularly helped by post-holiday sales.

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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