A Friday (Feb. 15) afternoon revelation that February sales for Wal-Mart Stores could hit lows not seen in seven years sent company shares on a brief dive before recovering to only lose 2.15% in trading.

Bloomberg News obtained a memo from Jerry Murray, Wal-Mart vice president of finance and logistics, saying the February month-to-date sales were a “disaster.”

“In case you haven’t seen a sales report these days, February MTD sales are a total disaster,” Murray noted in a Feb. 12 e-mail to other executives, according to this report from Bloomberg.

Continuing, Murray wrote: “The worst start to a month I have seen in my 7 years with the company.”

Shares of Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT) closed Friday at $69.30, down $1.52. During the past 52 weeks the share price has ranged from a $77.60 high to a $57.18 low.

A Wal-Mart spokesman suggested the Murray e-mail may lack context, thus not presenting an accurate assessment of February sales.

“As with any organization, we often see internal communications that are not entirely accurate, that lack the proper context and represent individual opinions,” noted the Wal-Mart statement sent to The City Wire.

Context may appear Thursday (Feb. 21), when Wal-Mart releases fourth quarter earnings. The consensus among analysts watching Wal-Mart is that the retailer will post per share earnings of $1.57, which would top the $1.44 per share earned during the same quarter of the previous fiscal year.

The consensus revenue estimate for the quarter is $128.82 billion.

Retail sales are off to a slow start in 2013.

According to the National Retail Federation, January retail sales (excluding automobiles, gas stations and restaurants) increased 0.3% seasonally adjusted from December and increased 5.4% unadjusted year-over-year.

“Today’s retail sales figures continue to indicate a stable yet fragile economy,” NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay said in a statement. “Consumers are continuing to hold back on spending just as our economy is held back by political brinkmanship in D.C.”

Many retail sector watchers have said returning the Social Security portion of the payroll tax to its 6.2% rate – up from 4.2% – will hurt middle and lower income families who are typically the bulk of shoppers at Wal-Mart and other discount stores.

The tax shift is estimated to cut $1,000 in income from a family earning $50,000 a year. The so-called payroll tax reduction was made two years ago to boost spending by putting more money in the pockets of consumers.

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The City Wire Staff