Undated (AP) _ The nation's largest retailers today reported better-than-expected sales results for January, but industry analysts cautioned that it's too early to say whether business is rebounding from a long slump.

''You have to keep them in context - we were at war a year ago,'' said Terence McEvoy, an analyst with Janney Montgomery Scott Inc.

However, he said, ''even with that, it's a general improvement over recent trends. Let's keep our fingers crossed.''

The pickup in January followed months of sluggish business and a Christmas season that was disappointing for many retailers. A number of storeowners - most notably R.H. Macy & Co. Inc. - landed in bankruptcy court because they didn't make enough in holiday sales.

But, as McEvoy noted, last month's results were compared against the extremely depressed performance of January 1991, when the nation was preoccupied with the Gulf War.

Another reason for caution is that January is one of the least significant months of the retail year.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the nation's largest retailer, said its sales at stores open at least a year rose 13 percent, while overall sales rose 33 percent.

Sales from stores open at Penney Co. Inc., which has been hard-hit by the recession, also saw an improvement. Same-store sales were up 6 percent, with overall sales picking up 6.5 percent.

Dayton Hudson Corp. reported a same-store sales gain of 8.2 percent, and a 15.5 percent rise overall. President Stephen Watson said sales were better than expected at the company's Target discount stores and Mervyn's apparel chain, but he cautioned that business was primarily driven by price-cutting and clearance sales.

The results reported today differ from the monthly retail sales report from the government, which includes sales from supermarkets, restaurants and car dealers.

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