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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (Arkansas Business) -- Stock rise after a couple of encouraging surveys that suggested the economy may be poised to pick up after a winter slump.

Manufacturing in the U.S. expanded at the fastest pace in almost four years in February, according to a private survey by Markit.

And a separate report by the Conference Board said its index of leading indicators posted a moderate gain in January, suggesting that the economy will continue to expand in the first half of the year.

Earnings down for world's largest retailer

There are disappointing results and a weak outlook from the world's largest retailer, Wal-Mart Stores Inc.

Wal-Mart reporting fourth-quarter earnings down 21 percent from the same time last year and its fourth straight quarter of same-store sales declines in a quarter that included the all-important holiday shopping season.

So what went wrong? Wal-Mart pointed to a number of factors. Shoppers' have been under pressure after a 2 percentage point increase in the Social Security payroll tax since the start of the year.

And the Nov. 1 expiration of a temporary boost in government food stamps also hurting customers' ability to spend.

On top of all that, recent winter storms chilled sales as Wal-Mart was forced to close some stores - or shoppers simply stayed home to avoid the cold.

Looking ahead, Wal-Mart is still in growth mode, planning to add close to 300 new stores this year.

But those stores will be smaller stores -- Neighborhood Markets and the ultra-small Wal-Mart Expresses -- to cater to shoppers looking for more convenience.

Plans for new shopping center in Conway

There is early word of plans for a new shopping center in Conway.

The city is now studying a North Carolina real estate firm's plans for a 400,000 SF development in the southeast corner of Amity Road and Dave Ward Drive.

Wes Craiglow, Conway's deputy director of planning and development, tells Arkansas Business that the city has been in talks with representatives of Collett of Charlotte, N.C., for about a year and are inching closer to a finished site plan.

Craiglow said no businesses are confirmed for the site, which accounts for 400,000 SF of primary shopping -- but encompass nearly 450,000 SF when outparcels for other shops, banks and restaurants are factored in.

Among the next steps for the project will be to rezone the land to allow for retail development.

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