Wal-Mart’s distress signal

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) — U.S. retailers reported their slowest monthly sales growth in five years, which would further cement fears that American consumers are buckling under the weight of a slowing economy.

Leading the way was No. 1 retailer Wal-Mart Stores Inc., (WMT, Fortune 500) which on Thursday reported a big miss in its January same-store sales, or sales at stores open at least a year. Same-store sales is a key measure of performance in the retail industry.

Wal-Mart partly blamed its soft sales on poor gift card redemptions, but one retail analyst wasn’t buying that explanation.

“Wal-Mart’s not a top destination for gift card redemptions,” said Ken Perkins, president of sales tracking firm Retail Metrics. “I think its results show that its core low-income shoppers and now the middle-class households who shop there are scaling back.”

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