Wal-Mart Stores Inc. reported a 9 percent increase in third-quarter net income as the world's largest retailer continues to woo back shoppers by reemphasizing it has the lowest prices. But the company is seeing its momentum slow as it grapples with an uncertain global economy.
The Bentonville, Ark.-based discounter issued a fourth-quarter profit outlook that was below analysts' forecast. It also reported that revenue at stores open at least a year, a figure that measures growth in established stores, fell short of Wall Street estimates.
Wal-Mart is considered an economic bellwether because the retailer accounts for nearly 10 percent of nonautomotive retail spending in the U.S. The company's latest results underscore how its low- income shoppers continue to have a hard time stretching their dollars to the next pay day and count on rock-bottom prices.
"Current macroeconomic conditions continue to pressure our customers," said Charles Holley, Wal-Mart's chief financial officer in a statement. "The holiday season is predicted to be very competitive but we are well prepared to deliver on the value and low prices our customers expect."
Nevertheless, Wal-Mart has been able to turn around its U.S. business by fixing its mistakes it made in merchandising and pricing. It's hammering its low price message again after temporarily discounting select items. It's also returned thousands of items to its shelves after a campaign to reduce clutter in its stores backfired.
The company says Thursday it earned $3.63 billion, or $1.08 per share, in the quarter ended Oct. 31. That compares with $3.33 billion, or 96 cents per share, in the year-ago period.
Net sales, excluding Sam's Club membership fees, rose 3.4 percent to $113.2 million.
Analysts were expecting $1.07 per share on revenue of $114 billion.
Wal-Mart says revenue at stores opened at least a year rose 1.5 percent for its namesake U.S. business, below Wall Street's estimate of 1.8 percent. That's the division's fifth straight quarterly gain after posting nine straight quarters of declines. But the figure represents a slowdown from the 2.2 percent growth in the second quarter and a 2.6 percent increase in the first quarter.
For the entire U.S. business, the measure rose 1.7 percent, including a 2.7 percent rise at Sam's Clubs.
Revenue for Wal-Mart's U.S. business, which accounts for about 60 percent of the company's total business, rose 3.6 percent to $66.1 billion, while revenue at Sam's Club rose 4.7 percent to $13.9 billion. Revenue at its international division, which accounts for about a quarter of Wal-Mart's total revenue, rose 4.7 percent. That marked a slowdown from the previous quarter.
Wal-Mart narrowed its full year earnings guidance and issued a fourth-quarter profit outlook that's below analysts' forecasts.
It now expects earnings per share for the full year to be between $4.88 per share and $4.93 per share. It originally expected earnings per share of $4.83 to $4.93. For the fourth quarter, it expects earnings per share to be $1.53 per share and $1.58 per share. Analysts had expected $1.59 per share.
Wal-Mart's stock fell $2.28 per share, or more than 3 percent, to $69.03 in trading.