NEW YORK (AP) -- Wal-Mart Stores Inc.'s shares rose more than 3 percent amid positive economic data, making it the biggest gainer on Friday among the companies included in the Dow Jones industrial average.
The rise extends a rally that the world's largest retailer has enjoyed since mid-May when it reported strong first-quarter financial results. Its shares have been hovering around 12-year highs.
THE SPARK: The Commerce Department reported Friday that U.S. wholesale businesses restocked faster in April, responding to a strong increase in sales. The gain could be a good sign for economic growth in April through June.
The Commerce Department said stockpiles grew 0.6 percent at the wholesale level in April, double the March gain. Sales by wholesale businesses jumped 1.1 percent in April, nearly three times the March sales gain.
Stockpiles at the wholesale level stood at $483.5 billion in April. That's 25.6 percent above the post-recession low of $384.9 billion in September 2009.
When businesses restock more, they order more goods. That generally leads to increased factory production and higher economic growth.
THE BIG PICTURE: Nearly 10 percent of Americans' nonautomotive spending at retailers goes to Wal-Mart so it's a barometer of the economy.
As its mainly low-income shoppers continue to struggling to stretch their dollars from paycheck to paycheck, Wal-Mart's sales have been kept in check. The company also suffered because it had made mistakes in pricing and merchandising during the recession.
But last year, it restocked 10,000 items, and it is re-emphasizing its "everyday low" prices, instead of temporary discounts on select items. Those efforts have paid off.
Revenue at stores opened at least a year — considered a key measure of a retailer's health — rose 2.6 percent in the company's U.S. Walmart stores for the first quarter. That marked the division's best performance in three years and represented the third consecutive quarterly gain for the division after nine straight quarters of declines.
SHARE ACTION: By mid-afternoon, shares of Wal-Mart rose $2.03, or 3.2 percent, to $67.90, after topping $68 to hit a new high for the year. Over the past year, the shares have traded as low as $48.31.
The rebound in Wal-Mart's stock since its earnings release in mid-May has more than made up for a 7 percent drop that came right after allegations surfaced of bribery in its Mexico operations.