NEW YORK (AP) — Growing overseas business and strict cost controls helped Wal-Mart Stores Inc.’s net income rise 3 percent in the first quarter, beating Wall Street expectations.
But business at home is still soft for the world’s largest retailer. U.S. Walmart stores posted their eighth straight quarter of revenue declines at stores open at least a year.
That figure compares revenue with the same quarter a year earlier and excludes stores that opened or closed during the year. It is an important measure of a retailer’s health.
The company also offered a cautious second-quarter earnings outlook because of worries that higher prices for gasoline and groceries could put more strain on its low-income customers. Wal-Mart has said they are having a harder time stretching their dollars to the next payday than last year.
“We are monitoring the economic environment carefully, as significant changes in gas prices and inflation during the quarter will influence our actual performance,” Bill Simon, Walmart U.S. president and CEO, said in a statement.
Wal-Mart reported net income of $3.39 billion, or 97 cents per share, in the three months ended April 30. That compares with $3.3 billion, or 87 cents per share, in the same period last year.
Revenue, excluding membership fees from Sam’s Club warehouse stores, rose 4.4 percent to $103.41 billion.
Analysts expected earnings of 95 cents on revenue of $102.76 billion, according to FactSet.
Wal-Mart’s US division posted a 0.3 percent drop in revenue at stores open at least a year, dragged down by a 1.1 percent drop at its namesake stores. That measure rose 4.2 percent at Sam’s Clubs, which has drawn more customers because of its push to remodel stores and carry better-quality food and other merchandise.
Wal-Mart’s U.S. business is hurting because of mistakes the company made on price and selection. Wal-Mart also faces increasing price competition from dollar chains, Amazon.com and other online retailers.
Wal-Mart is trying several strategies to revive U.S. growth, bring back disaffected customers and draw new ones. It is restoring thousands of items it had stopped carrying in an overzealous bid to streamline its stores.
It started with groceries and now is bringing back general merchandise items like restocking fishing supplies in Dallas and snow blowers in Minneapolis. The company is highlighting the returning items with flags on store shelves trumpeting “It’s Back.”
Wal-Mart also is hammering its return to the “Every Day Low Price” message of founder Sam Walton with a new ad campaign. And it plans to open smaller stores under the name Walmart Express.
In a prerecorded conference call, company officials said the U.S. business is “gaining traction” because of the measures it has taken to fix its business. During the latest quarter, groceries and health and wellness items were the star performers.
Simon said Walmart is seeing business in basic household items like paper goods and shampoo, recovering as it adds back popular products and brands it had cut.
The company’s entertainment category saw declines, hurt by falling prices on electronics. However, the company did enjoy strong sales of TVs as customers used tax refunds during the quarter.
Higher gas and food prices are putting more strain on its shoppers, Wal-Mart officials said. Customers are consolidating their trips to save money on gas. Wal-Mart is also seeing more pronounced drops in buying in the few days before the end of the month when money is tight and then a big spike in spending during the first few days of the month when many shoppers get paychecks or government assistance.
“During the quarter, we saw continued pressure from ongoing macro-economic conditions as customers continued to trade down to opening price points and some private label products,” said Simon, during the pre-recorded call.
Wal-Mart’s international business, which produces 26 percent of company revenue, has been a bright spot.
The international division’s revenue rose 11.5 percent to $27.9 billion in the first quarter, led by the biggest gains in Mexico, China and Chile. Revenue grew strongly in all international marets except Japan, which was hurt by the earthquake and tsunami.
Sam’s Club revenue rose 9.4 percent. It accounts for about 12 percent of company revenue. Wal-Mart’s U.S. division eked out a 0.6 percent increase in total revenue because it opened more stores.
For the second quarter, Wal-Mart expects earnings per share between $1.05 per share and $1.10 per share. The estimates assume that currency exchange rates remain at current levels. Analysts forecast $1.08 per share.
Wal-Mart also predicted that revenue at stores open at least a year at its Walmart U.S. stores would be anywhere from down 1 percent to up 1 percent for the second quarter.
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